Horses add authenticity to Boonville battle re-enactment

Sunday, June 19, 2011 | 7:32 p.m. CDT; updated 8:28 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 19, 2011
Sam is a 21-year-old Quarter Horse-Paint Horse cross, who has been participating in re-enactments for 12 years with his owner, Joey Culbertson of Easton, Kan. Sam participated in the Battle of Boonville over the weekend, and also has appeared in other performances and in several films.

BOONVILLE — Sam has been coming to re-enactments since he was 8 years old.

That’s 8 in human years. In horse years, he was about 24. Horses tend to have a shorter life span than humans.

Sam is a cross between a Quarter Horse and a Paint Horse. His hair, a reddish color called sorrel, covers his body except for an oblong stretch of white hair down his face and his two white front feet. His mane is golden with a touch of gray.

After 12 years of re-enactment experience, Sam is now around 21 years old and weighs roughly 1,200 pounds, down from the 1,400 pounds he weighed in his younger years. This weekend's First Battle of Boonville re-enactment was Sam’s first re-enactment this year.

Sam and his owner, Joey Culbertson, are part of 8th Missouri Confederate Cavalry, which came to Boonville for the re-enactment. On Sunday, the unit had about 10 members on horseback along with a handful of family members around the campsite. 

Culbertson, 30, said horses were used during the Civil War to get quickly from place to place. He said cavalrymen could dismount and fight, fight while riding or use their horses to quickly move to another location to defend the flanks.

“The cavalry was basically used as fast-movers,” Culbertson said. “They were for protection of infantry and artillery."

Culbertson said horses were outfitted with sabers, a type of sword around 3 1/2 feet long. They are nicknamed “big knives” and were used to inflict deadly injuries.

"They would ride by and finish them off," Culbertson said of the cavalry. "Thin out the members more or less.”

This scenario is not acted out in re-enactments, though, at least not in the ones the 8th Missouri Confederate Cavalry attends, said Don Greene of Springfield. Greene plays the part of a lieutenant in the unit.

“We don’t hit anybody on the head," he said. "We saber fight, but we just get together, and we hit swords."

Culbertson said he thought it was better to be on horseback during the Civil War because it required less walking and made it harder for the enemy to hit a fast-moving target.

He said because people in the South had more experience with horses, the Confederate cavalry served as a major advantage over the Union at the beginning of the war.

“In the North, they actually bought and issued horses from people from the cities that had never even been on a horse," Culbertson said.

Greene said the main challenge with training for re-enactments is acquainting the horses with the cannons.

“It’s the loud noise,” Greene said. “The percussion and stuff just bothers them but once you get them used to that, they’re good with the gunfire and stuff.”

Culbertson said that to prepare a horse to manage gunfire, he positions one horse between two more experienced horses and ties the middle horse to one on the side. Then Culbertson has someone walk toward the three horses while shooting. The middle horse learns from the other two horses that it doesn’t need to be afraid of the gunshots.

Greene said the length of time it takes to train a horse for re-enactments depends on the horse. He pointed to Brody Bill, an 8-year-old buckskin Quarter Horse he’s been working with for about a year.

“He’s just getting where he’s doing pretty good,” Greene said of Brody Bill. “He’s not doing excellent yet, but he’s doing pretty good.”

“Like I tell everybody, it’s just how much you ride the horse,” Greene said. “If you use him, he’ll do good. If you just don’t use him, it takes longer, and sometimes they don’t work out.”

Sam has dragged heavy loads, roped steer and done a good bit of racing in his time with Culbertson, who lives on a ranch in Easton, Kan.

“This sounds kind of arrogant, but he is actually the fastest horse you or anybody else will probably see,” Culbertson said. “I’ve raced hundreds of people. I haven’t found anybody that beat him."

Sam has also worked other performances, re-enactments and even several films. Culbertson said Sam has probably participated in more than 50 such events.

In his free time, Sam lives on the Culbertson family's Crazy (C) Ranch in Easton. The family has around 10 horses, four of which currently do re-enactments. A few others are in training.

“We had longhorns the whole time I was growing up," Culbertson said. “We worked cows and stuff and had horses basically my whole life. It's kind of a family ritual for us, me and my brothers. As soon as your kid’s old enough to sit up on his own, take him around on a horse … I could actually ride better than I could walk at the age of 2. So my boys are the same way. I got one that’s 7 and I got one that’s gonna be a year old in about 10 days.”

He said each horse is unique.

“They all have their individuality, that’s true,” he said. “They are all unique, that is very true." Sam "is incredibly intelligent. He’s like a big dog … They know what’s going on. He knows his job.”

Culbertson said the horses enjoy performing at the re-enactments.

“Most horse people would say horses don’t really like to be rode,” Culbertson said. “I would agree with that if it was the same old boring thing all the time. But … it gives them something to do, and it’s more like a competition. They get out, they run, and horses by nature are flight animals anyway. They like to run.”

Culberston said the horses like to be around each other because they are herd animals. He said they establish a pecking order, though, and there is competition to be the most dominant animal.

Culbertson said this competitive spirit comes out in the re-enactments.

“The way we play, it does,” Culbertson said. “We don’t just stand there next to the infantry and the artillery the whole time. We go running down and, you know, sword fight. We really get with it and have fun. That’s the only reason you come to these things. It ain’t worth the drive and all the work setting up and all this sweating to death out here, it ain’t worth it if you don’t have fun. And we like to ride.”

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