To celebrate both the Olympic Games and the Ft. Riley Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard performing at the Spring Valley Historic Site’s Open House on August 27th here is a reprinting of an article by the GCHS former Executive Director, Gaylynn Childs.
On January 1st, 1893, Fort Riley became site of the Cavalry and light artillery school, which continued until 1943, when the Calvary was disbanded. Thanks to Fort Riley’s Cavalry School, equestrian champions, both of the two and four-legged variety, are almost a part of our community heritage, for Geary County can boast of several representatives who won medals in Olympic competitions in the 1930s.
In 1932 these world games were held in Los Angeles and the entire Army Equestrian Team was trained and groomed at Fort Riley. Among the horses which would be entered in the competition that year was a gray mare with real local ties. Her story was brought to our attention by Bill Koester, a member of the Junction City High School Class of 1937.
Bill’s father, Capt. William Koester, had been posted to Fort Riley in 1925 after a 5 year stint with a Cavalry Regiment in the Philippines. In 1927, he became aide to the Commanding General and eventually a student at the post’s Mounted Service School. According to his son, “this assignment offered an opportunity to try out for the U.S. Army Olympic Equestrian Team then being assembled at that post. He qualified, and in 1931 was named a member and team coach.”
In 1928, while driving through the farmlands surrounding the Fort, Capt Koester happened to spot a gray-colored mare jumping a 22-foot-wide creek on a farmer’s spread near Ogden. He recognized her potential and went to see if the farmer would consider selling her. When asked how much he wanted for the horse, the farmer scratched his head, pondered a while, and then allowed as how he wouldn’t take a penny less than 75 bucks for her. ‘Sold!’ said my Dad.
“Next day, he returned with a trailer and cashier’s check for $75. He trained her from day one for the Olympics, and in her prime she was the greatest jumper in the world. Dad named her ‘Show Girl’ and personally oversaw her training and development into a world class jumper.
“Dad loaned Show Girl to the Army specifically for the games of the 10th Olympiad. It was a fortuitous move. On August 14, 1932, she transfixed 103,000 spectators in the Los Angeles Coliseum by dramatically negotiating a 1500-meter course of 23 obstacles to win the Silver Medal in the “Prix des Nations” jumping competition. Never had an American entrant been a medalist in this event, and none would again until 1968, when the U.S. won the Gold in Mexico City.
“During the remainder of the ‘30s, Show Girl reigned as the greatest jumper in the world, winning countless trophies at the elite horse shows of the world. Dad’s reputation—as horseman (he rode her in most events), trainer, and equine authority—soared.”
Another legendary Geary County horseman was also on the 1932 Olympic team and also brought home a medal. Col. Hirum Tuttle has been aptly described as a true “Renaissance Man” for he was a man of many talents and abilities. Born in 1882, in Maine, he grew up riding on the back of his father’s plow horse as his father worked the fields on the family farm. When the war started in 1917, he enlisted in officer’s training and when the United States entered World War I, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. Following the war he was posted to Fort Riley in 1923 and then served for a time in remount work at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. There, he was in charge of the buying and overseeing the breaking of horses and mules for the Army to make them suitable for the service for which they had been obtained. From this experience he developed the skills and expertise which would eventually make him the premiere trained rider in the world.
In 1932 Hirum Tuttle represented the United States’ team in the Olympic Games at Los Angeles, and again, in the fabled 1936 Games in Berlin. To this day, he is the only U.S. rider to have won an individual medal in Dressage. He did this in 1932 when his performance also contributed to the U.S. team’s Bronze Medal won that same year.
Tuttle owned all the horses he rode and they were all trained and developed at Fort Riley. Four of them--Olympic, Vast, Si Murray, and Peter Brown—were known throughout the world. After retirement, Tuttle got special permission from Washington to keep his horses at Fort Riley, at no expense to the Army. He worked with them there every day, and even after he had suffered a stroke and was wheelchair-bound, he had someone push him out to visit his horses each day. Col. Hirum Tuttle died on November 11, 1956, and was buried at Fort Riley with military honors, including that most poignant tribute—for this man especially—the riderless horse.
So not only is Fort Riley one of the most historic and important military bases in the United States, but it also has some Olympic Gold to show off!
This undated photograph of a horse at the Cavalry School shows the horse vaulting what looks like two horses and a fence.