The Basic Equine Riders Course, or BERC, is the program that must be completed to become a rider in the musical ride with the Strathcona Mounted Troop. The first day of the course began with some instruction on safe handling practices, how to behave around horses, and how to work with them in a safe manner. It was a good thing too, because later that same day we were on horseback, enjoying our first ride.
Over the next 19 weeks, about a third of our time was spent in the classroom. Despite their size and strength, horses require a lot of specialized care to remain healthy. We learned proper feeding practices to ensure the horses’ digestive health. We studied grooming techniques, which help improve the horses’ circulation, prevent sores, and make their coat shine. There was extensive training in identification and treatment of health issues, such as laminitis, colic, diseases, or saddle sores. There was also an Equine First Aid certificate course we took, where we practiced cleaning wounds and applying bandages to one of our horses.
The rest of our time was spent grooming and riding the horses. As a person with no previous experience with horses, I found this part to be the most challenging. We began riding bareback, as it is more important to maintain proper posture and technique when a saddle is absent. Horses are guided primarily with the legs, rather than the reins, and it took a lot of practice to learn the cues to make them move the way we wanted. Riding horses is not without an element of danger and most of us new riders took more than one fall. I myself spent many evenings in an Epsom salt bath, soaking my sore muscles and bruises. In time, we began using saddles, which made our twice – daily rides a little easier.
In mid-March, we faced our spur test. We had to demonstrate to the ride master that we had honed our riding skills to meet the troop standard. Most of us passed this test on the first attempt, and I received my spurs the next week.
This season I have been paired with Solomon, a sixteen year old sorrel horse with a grumpy disposition. We get along wonderfully, and I am looking forward to a season on the road with him and the rest of the troop.