Robin Nelson '22 November 14, 2023 11:38 AM updated: November 21, 2023 2:29 PM
Parsons Mounded Cavalry is marking 50 years in 2023. Read along for some of its history and what comes next.
When Texas A&M was first established in 1876 as an all male, military campus, training provided to its future military officers included mounted drill. This instruction would continue until 1943, when the U.S. Army disbanded its horse operations, rendering the training no longer useful.
This training would remain dormant until three rising senior cadets -- Michael Collins '74, Darrell Williams '74 and Douglas Latimer '74 -- approached then commandant, Col. Thomas R. Parsons ‘49, in the spring of 1973 with an idea to revive mounted drill training.
“During our junior year, there were three cadets who rode into a football game with the color guard," Collins said. "The more the three of us talked about expanding on that, the more we realized that we had a really great idea on our hands."
With Parsons’ approval and assistance, Parsons Mounted Cavalry (PMC) was formed, named in his honor.
“Naming the unit after Col. Parsons was brilliant and I don't remember if it was a group decision or just luck, but it was the most important decision we made,” Collins said. “Without Col. Parsons, we would not have been able to put the unit together. We brought a lot of ‘want to’ and ‘how do we do’ questions to him and he helped us identify solutions. Parsons was a ‘can do’ person.”
Parsons Mounted Cavalry would make its first appearance in the Corps’ march-in ahead of the A&M-Wichita State game on Sept. 15, 1973.
Throughout the unit’s early days, cadets involved in PMC had to bring their own horses and provide their own transportation in order to participate in the unit. Cadets housed their horses at the Texas A&M Research Annex at the Riverside campus, where PMC also conducted its training exercises.
As interest and membership in the special unit began to rise, it became apparent that PMC would eventually need to migrate to larger facilities to accommodate future growth.
In 1979, just five years after its inception, Parsons Mounted Cavalry transitioned from the Research Annex to a new facility off of F&B Road, near Texas A&M’s Vet School. This move granted PMC 26 new acres to house its horses and conduct training exercises.
In 1981, this new facility was named after a poem dedicated to paradise that was adopted by the U.S. Army cavalry formations in the late 1800s, “Fiddler’s Green.” This location continues to serve as the home and headquarters to PMC.
“Fiddler’s Green provides land and facilities for all our training and housing of horses and gear, but it is much more than that. Fiddler’s Green becomes a home to our PMC cadets. Their interactions through work, feeding and riding unites them in a way that nothing else does,” said Lt. Col. Jeff Gardner ‘82, current military advisor to Parsons Mounted Cavalry.
As PMC continued to grow, cadets were no longer required to provide their own horses and transportation in order to participate in the unit. This change came as a result of the unit’s acquisition of its own animals, who are all permanent residents of the facility.
Today, Fiddler’s Green houses PMC’s 70 horses and mules, many of whom previously belonged to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or other private owners.
With the first female cadets in the Corps joining in 1974, it was only natural that Parsons Mounted Cavalry’s membership would follow suit in subsequent years. By the 1981-82 academic year, Parsons Mounted Cavalry, or simply the “Cav” as it is known by cadets, welcomed its first female member, Leaugeay C. “Beebe” (Buck) Barnes ‘82.
“I decided I wanted to be in the Cav since I had been riding most my life," Barnes said. "I joined PMC to ride horses and represent our university. I did not have the vision at the time to understand the magnitude of my participation for future women. Each barrier taken down is a brick for those coming behind to step upon to reach further than you can imagine."
As years have passed by, female membership in both the Corps and the Cav have continued to grow. For the 2018-19 academic year, cadet Rose Marshall ‘19 was selected as the unit’s first female commanding officer.
“When I found out that I was the first female commanding officer, it felt like such an honor," Marshall said. "I thought that being the first female CO would come with a lot of scrutiny, but I had a lot of really great fellow Cav Jocks by my side who helped me overcome whatever I faced."
Similar to the rest of the Corps, Parsons Mounted Cavalry would also continue to see a steady overall growth in membership across the years. From 25 members during the 1974-75 academic year to the unit’s present 86 members for 2023-24, PMC’s tryout process has adapted to become more competitive and time involved.
“PMC has grown in many ways over the past 15 years," Gardner said. "In the early years membership was determined by if you could provide your own horse. Today, we average about 180 sophomore cadets vying for 50 positions allocated to the junior class. Unlike other special units in the Corps, it takes 10 months of training to earn your cord and become a member."
This growth is also accompanied by a significant jump in the unit’s overall GPA, which has regularly averaged out to 3.30 for several years.
Keeping pace with the Corps in membership and academic performance has elevated Parsons Mounted Cavalry to iconic status within the organization, and has positioned PMC for greater involvement and visibility within the larger Texas A&M community.
As Parsons Mounted Cavalry continues to solidify its reputation as a cornerstone of Texas A&M’s identity, so has the special unit’s participation in large-scale, national events. The nation’s only collegiate mounted cavalry unit, PMC is truly one of a kind in every arena.
From parades to a presidential inauguration, Parsons Mounted Cavalry, the nation’s only collegiate mounted cavalry unit, has regularly represented Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets on many significant stages.
“We have participated in everything from the [George H.W.] Bush inaugural parade in 1989 to the Bryan Christmas parade," Gardner said. "We tend to be a crowd favorite at each event, and we believe we represent the spirit and traditions of A&M very well."
One of PMC’s most recent prominent appearances is the 2019 Rose Parade. This parade featured the entire unit, which traveled by several trucks and trailers from College Station to Pasadena, California, over the course of three days.
Rose Marshall ‘19, who is from Southern California and actually named after the parade itself, led the special unit throughout its involvement in the parade.
“When I became commanding officer, I was informed that the Cav always tried to ride in a parade in the CO’s hometown," Marshall said. "I thought that this made sense for COs that were from Texas, but just as a joke I asked about my hometown parade, the Rose Parade. I was shocked when the response was, ‘well, let’s apply.'
“It wasn’t long after we applied that we got accepted," she said. "That’s when the work really started. I am so thankful that I got to go all the way to Pasadena, my hometown, and bring a little piece of Aggieland with me.”
Parsons Mounted Cavalry continues to regularly represent Texas A&M and the Corps in San Antonio’s Battle of Flowers Parade, the Rio Grande Valley’s Citrus Parade, in rodeos across the state and many other highly attended events.
“The work that goes into preparing for these events is tremendous, and it is truly a special thing to see Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets represented through our students in Parsons Mounted Cavalry," said Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis ‘93, commandant of the Corps of Cadets. "Whether you’re an Aggie or not, the impressive nature of the Cav is undeniable in every setting."
As the Corps of Cadets continues efforts to build its overall membership numbers, membership within the special unit has grown to represent some of the Corps’ highest quality cadets.
“My favorite part of being the PMC advisor is watching the cadets grow and mature across their time in the program," Gardner said. "Members of the unit are excellent students. The overall GPA for the Cav has consistently increased year after year for several years now, which is a major statistic."
From its beginnings as a simple idea conjured by a group of cadets, to its present recognition as one of Texas A&M’s greatest identifying features, Parsons Mounted Cavalry has grown to include cadets from all backgrounds, providing them the opportunity to learn and develop within the special unit.
“Approximately 90% of our cadets in PMC actually come to the special unit with no prior horsemanship experience," Gardner said. "Across a ten month period beginning in their sophomore year, cadets earn their cords and their place within the Cav. If you’re willing to put in the work and improve everyday, there’s a place for you in Parsons Mounted Cavalry."
For many cadets, the lessons they’ve learned from their time in PMC have served them well into their professional careers and personal lives.
“The Corps of Cadets is a leadership laboratory designed for students who are looking for more out of their college experience," Michaelis said. "We welcome young men and women from all over the world, and prepare them to lead at every level, no matter their career goals.
"Students who may not have otherwise interacted in this setting are now at the heart of one of our university’s most cherished traditions, gaining skills that will serve them well into the future and connections they will have for the rest of their lives," he said. "The Cav experience produces leaders who are compassionate, determined and dedicated to excellence in their craft, and that’s exactly the kind of individuals that our communities, our state and our nation need as we move toward the future.”
With a storied legacy already firmly established in its first 50 years, it is hard not to imagine all the ways Parsons Mounted Cavalry will continue to accomplish and grow across the next 50.
While much remains to be seen, there is one thing that is certain:
Parsons Mounted Cavalry will continue to ride on.
Learn more about Parsons Mounted Cavalry at tx.ag/PMC50.