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Cavalry Rite of Passage: The Spur Ride

To join one of the Army’s most time-honored families, Cav Scouts must successfully navigate this arduous test of skills and endurance
During a Spur Ride, Shave Tails can be sure of one thing: getting smoked. On the first day, those who haven’t adhered to the packing list handed out the previous night must pay a heavy price in sweat: squats with rucksacks overhead, while artillery simulators are “blowing up” all around.
Shave Tails are ordered to walk again and again—between stations, through forests and fields, and over dense and uneven terrain. In the process, they put their land nav skills to the test. Each Soldier probably covers 15 to 20 miles at Fort McCoy, WI. And that's before the final 8-mile ruck.
After crawling through a mud trench, the Soldiers, with adrenaline pumping, take a short test on all things Cavalry. Their uniforms are soaked, their papers are wilting, and they’re under a constant barrage of harassment from the Spur Holders, the cadre members who are part punisher and part support group.
Spur Holders are a special breed with a special legacy. The 1st Squadron’s mascot is a red iron stallion. Cut inside that is the iconic red arrow of the unit they’re now a part of, the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The lineage of the squadron’s troops traces back to WWI and the dawn of the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division.
To become a Spur Holder, you must learn to excel as part of a group. Divided into teams of 6 to 10 Soldiers at the beginning of the event, Shave Tails attempt to cross a barrier of simulated land mines without setting one off. Using a couple of two-by-fours and ammo cans lying on the ground, a team slithers its way across.
A moment of levity: In homage to their predecessors on horseback, instructors have the Shave Tails practice galloping in group formation as part of preparation for charging into battle. They even have one particularly enthusiastic Soldier demonstrate the gallop for everyone, to much laughter. Then it is back to business.
Shave Tails low-crawl through a mud trench 100 feet long, dipping underwater at points to get past debris. The overall physical intensity takes a toll on mental focus. The hardest part of a Spur Ride is the mental aspect, says one Spur Holder: “You start to wonder how long you can keep going.”
Using their batons as sabers and yelling at the top of their lungs, Shave Tails charge across a field, dispatching their enemy, represented by watermelons on stakes.
The Spur Holders, many of them proudly wearing their Stetson, designed this event to be a “suck fest.” But when they sense that a Shave Tail needs support, they are quick to offer encouragement. Also, rank essentially disappears during the 32-hour exercise. It’s not uncommon to see a sergeant screaming at a major.
The Cavalry spurs are one of the most iconic symbols of the Cav MOS. Dating to the days when Cavalry was a mounted force, spurs were just as instrumental to a Soldier’s combat effectiveness as his rifle or saber. Silver spurs indicate that you’ve passed a Spur Ride; gold spurs are awarded if you’ve deployed with a Cav unit.
In the old days, Shave Tails would be awarded their Spurs while on their steed. Since the Cav hasn’t had horses since the 1930s, Spur Holders here use a rocking horse as a symbol. This elicits laughter at first from younger troops, but the parade ground grows silent as ceremonies commence and Soldiers hope their name is called.

Welcome to the Spur Ride, an event steeped in history, filled with mystery and marked by extraordinary skills and perseverance. A rite of passage for Cavalry Scouts, the Spur Ride is a battery of military-specific and physical fitness tests, performed on little to no sleep, that pushes these Soldiers to their limits. If they successfully execute and endure this gauntlet of challenges, they’ll earn their spurs, the trademark of the modern-day Cav Scout. More important, they will be inducted into the Order of the Spur, an exclusive family in the Army’s Cav community. If they falter—and far from everyone passes—they will still come through it a stronger Cav Scout, with a chance to try again next time. 

Spur Rides are typically held every year or couple of years. The exact tests vary unit to unit. But they are all mercilessly demanding for the hopefuls, or Shave Tails—the name comes from the early days of Cavalry units, when inexperienced troopers were assigned a horse with a shaved tail. In August, GX was granted access to a Spur Ride conducted by Wisconsin’s 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment. The photos above and the video below offer a snapshot of what these 44 Shave Tails experienced.