The Hard Truth and the Hard Ground
By: Cpl Brandon Fraser
Joining the Canadian Armed Forces and choosing to be an Armoured Crewman has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. My choice to go Armoured was simple; I wanted to drive a tank. So when I graduated from Gagetown I made the choice to join the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) Regiment in order to have the best chance possible of getting on the tanks. However, life in the Army does not always work out as planned and upon my arrival at the Regiment I found myself sent off to Reconnaissance Squadron were I was trained as a Coyote and Lav 3 Driver, Surveillance Operator, and Gunner. My life took another unexpected turn when the chance came up to volunteer for the Strathcona Mounted Troop (SMT).
I came to SMT in October of 2013 with soldiers from B Squadron. To say the least, my understanding of the Mounted Troop was very limited. I was under the mistaken belief that SMT was a place where you shoveled manure and that riding horses was a very simple thing to do (this was a fact which my aching groin later confirmed was very far from the truth). Upon arrival to the Tp, I was greeted by many friendly people but was overwhelmed by new surroundings which where nothing at all like what I was used to. Regardless, I was happy to have this chance and I eagerly awaited the start of my equine training.
All new students of SMT go through a course we call the “BERC” (Basic Equine Ride Course). The first month of this course was very demanding. As a student I was expected to ride a horse for the first time in my life as well as take hour after mind numbing hour of equestrian theory classes. The training during these first couple months was interesting, exciting, and scary. We started out with the basics of equestrian theory which detailed everything from the proper feeding of horses to recognizing common medical conditions and how to apply basic equine first aid if required. It was a lot to take in but we all understood how important it was to learn. At the Regiment a mistake might lead to extra work repairing or maintaining a broken vehicle, but at SMT we all understood that mistakes could harm or even kill the living and breathing creatures that were under our care. It was a big responsibility but at the same time an incredibly rewarding one.
As I said before, I quickly learned that riding a horse was not as easy as it looked. Ride practices started with the whole class having a chance to ride on a lunge line. We then moved on to riding around the arena following a senior Rider. Of course this was done like most military drill classes with the Sgt in the middle of the Arena “Nicely” correcting any faults he picked up on and “motivating” us to maintain proper speed and spacing. The training became more interesting when they took all the riding gear away and we continued the training bareback. This is where we all learned how hard it was to ride a horse and how hard the ground was to hit. Each class was rewarding and we slowly learned how to ride.
Our training was demanding but was delivered in such a way that it was never too much for any of us to accomplish if we put the effort in. It amazes me that I use to consider trotting around the arena as something that was hard and now I see it as a normal everyday activity. After we all got use to trotting we moved onto learning how to canter. It is a scary thing when you first achieve that speed, and it is even scarier when you didn’t intend to canter and can’t stop the horse. I had a few experiences with that when introduced to a horse named Starbuck, who took the chance to introduce me to the ground quite a few times.
All in all, so far SMT has been a very rewarding experience for me. Although, most of the new members of the Troop never rode a horse before joining, we have tried our best to learn what we can. We have all come a long way from our first days in the Troop, and although every day is filled with lots of work and training, at the end we all feel like we have truly accomplished something. I am excited for the upcoming Ride season and am eager to see what the next two years have in store for me at the Strathcona Mounted Troop.