The Virginia Tech Corp of Cadets and Advantage Ranch have a symbiotic relationship.
Jennifer Poff Cooper
BLACKSBURG—The relationship between “town” and “gown” can sometimes be uneasy, but not in this case. Conrad Cavalry, part of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, and Advantage Ranch in Blacksburg are partnering in a way that benefits both entities.
Conrad Cavalry serves as an equestrian team and cavalry drill unit, working in conjunction with Advantage Ranch to bring a competitive and disciplined Western drill team to the VTCC.
Conrad Cavalry was organized in the fall of 1971 by Kenneth T. Chappelle, who was its first commander, and made its debut May 23, 1972 on Montgomery County Day.
The organization was named for Thomas N. Conrad, president of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Virginia Tech), 1882-86, who was an expert horseman. The unit was disbanded and then re-established in the late 1990s.
Fallon Fulgenzi, a senior majoring in meteorology and geography and minoring in Arabic, joined Conrad Cavalry as a freshman Corps member. She is now the Cadet Commander, meaning she is in charge of overseeing how the organization functions and reviewing the plans that people under her submit to see where the organization is going.
Last year, after four years out of the public eye and taking lessons piecemeal, Conrad Cavalry began approaching barns for a partnership and found Advantage Ranch. Fulgenzi liked that Advantage Ranch owner Deb Dyer engaged in a “larger thought process of what the Conrad Cavalry could be.”
The unit is bringing together a plan that will have the troop proudly representing the Virginia Tech Corps in parades, pass in reviews, and other performances.
Likewise, Fulgenzi inspired Dyer with her vision of making the unit better.
“It sounded like a game I’d like to play,” said Dyer.
As their coach, Dyer spends anywhere from 6-15 hours per week of her own time encouraging the cadets and advancing this program she feels is so worthwhile.
“I wouldn’t take on the project unless the young people are working as hard as I am,” said Dyer of her time investment.
Dyer looks at the program not just as it relates to horses, but also as a leadership development program for the future of the cadets involved. In the real world people will not care whether the cadets can ride, but they will care whether the cadets are resilient in the face of difficulties, exhibit maturity, and can work as a team, she said.
Easily her favorite part of the partnership, she said, is when the cadets have “moments of self-discovery.”
While spring semester was a trial run with a 10-week pilot program, the partnership is now cemented and has worked out beautifully. The unit rides and trains at Advantage Ranch, where members have individual lessons plus a weekly group lesson.
“Through this program,” said Fulgenzi, “we learned about horsemanship, developed skills in discipline and patience, and, most importantly, learned to love our time at the barn.”
Fulgenzi said that the unit has done more in the semester with Advantage Ranch than it had the previous three years. It has represented the Corps in a public light, riding as a unit in two presentations of colors – one at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, and one at the Polo Club at Virginia Tech’s Mercedes Cup – as well as a year-end event at the barn that was attended by the Commandant’s staff as well as Conrad Cavalry founder Chappelle.
“Anytime an organization has a large dream, a number of challenges and roadblocks will exist,” Dyer said. Her role as coach is to help the cadets learn how to respond to these “learning opportunities.”
The biggest challenges for Conrad Cavalry are recruiting members and obtaining funding. Fulgenzi said that through a membership drive, or tapping process, this fall the group hopes to add to its roster of ten active members. Recruitment has been made easier by Dyer’s encouragement for the group to participate in events for visibility. The unit is next going to ride together in the Virginia Tech homecoming parade on Oct. 21.
Anyone can join Conrad Cavalry, regardless of his or her level or horsemanship. Fulgenzi says that Dyer’s teaching method is unlike what she had previously experienced, so novice riders are not behind the curve. “Deb teaches differently,” she said, “in a way that is kinder to the horses.” This means softer movements and less pulling and kicking the horses to get them to obey.
For funding, the Conrad Cavalry uses dues and taps into the Corps’ overall fundraising effort as well as soliciting alumni. Cadets pay for their own riding lessons. Fulgenzi is hopeful that a university-wide fundraising campaign this fall, an app called ‘Jump,’ will boost Conrad Cavalry, which will have a page on its website.
Though she will soon be graduating, Falgenzi’s future goals for the Conrad Cavalry include a military drill team, more funding and members to allow for participation in more events, and having its own team of horses.
On her end, Dyer is committed to a long-standing relationship with the unit. “They are fabulous young people,” she said. “They have a goal that inspires and motivates, and logical steps toward achieving it.”
When other Corps organizations are out and about, Conrad Cavalry hopes to be right there with them.
For more information, see the unit’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/VTCCConradCav/.