A Loud Return Home
- an essay of events by Cpl. D. G. Choquette –
On August 11th, 2019, the Strathcona Ceremonial Mounted Troop left for Swift Current, SK to attend the Western Canada Summer Games. The troop performed their signature Cavalry Ride, followed by the skill-at-arms demonstration known as ‘tent pegging’. A sizeable crowd attended the performance: my father, as well as the father (and impressively vast extended family) of Corporal Justin Hodgins, were included. It was an amazing experience and proud moment for Justin and I, as we both come from this humble little town.
The Ceremonial Mounted Troop conducts various community relations events across Western Canada, which includes the Cavalry Ride. Even though this is our speciality, we stay flexible and structure ourselves to complete a variety of ceremonial events. For Swift Current, our objective was to complete two Cavalry Rides for the Western Canada Summer Games’ “Firelight Festival”. For Justin and I, however, it meant a lot more that that.
When the 20-horse trailer door hit the ground, the horses were greeted with a cozy arena to stretch their legs in, and a wonderfully designed stable for the evenings/rainy days to come. We then had the pleasure of meeting Ed Hodgins, a man who has spent his fair share of time working the land. He gave us the layout of where we would be staying, then provided us with some well needed feed and shavings.
Of course, if you’re in the Canadian Armed Forces, and you’re on a tasking of any sort, you know disaster is about to strike and knock your whole plan awry at any moment. It’s the curse we bear. So, of course, as per tradition… the rain came in. It started pouring down hard. The arena we had planned to perform in? Soaked. Destroyed. The horses were kept to their stables, and the troops to their cots. A long week of card games and ‘small town festivities’ awaited us.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with old friends as well as my father, and Ed showed no shyness in interacting with the troops. As the days went by and the weather slowly cleared, I became more and more anxious to show off my new skillset to the people I love. I’d done the ride enough times to do it in my sleep, that wasn’t what was worrying me; it was tent pegging.
Tent pegging, as done by the Strathcona Ceremonial Mounted Troop, is an equine skill-at-arms demonstration where a team of four armed cavalrymen form a perimeter around a carefully laid out set of hand-sized targets. Two cavalrymen are armed with cavalry swords, two are armed with lances. The teams are expected to cross each other in the center at the canter or gallop, simultaneously striking the target with their weapon, and carry the penetrated target to the opposite corner, scoring them a point. This is conducted four times, followed by a final charge down the length of the arena for the bonus ‘charge peg’.
I have had the privilege of practicing tent pegging after the completion of my BERC (Basic Equine Ride Course), and I applied myself completely during practices to develop and improve. As I began to adopt the technique and the aggressive nature required to tent peg, I had eventually come to realize my aim with a lance needed great honing and improvement. The moment I knew for sure we were performing at Swift Current, I was happy, but my heart sunk; I don’t want to look like a fool in front of my family. That aim had to improve, it HAD to. I’d been ‘skunking’ (AKA: acquiring zero points) often all year, and I didn’t want that to happen in front of my family.
The days blurred by, and before we knew it, the sun was shining bright. It dried out the arena. Yes, today was the day; the last evening of the Firelight Festival, we would get to perform for the families and friends of Justin and I.
We went and conducted a promenade to garner attention as the ride time approached, and oh boy, did we gather attention! The stands were nearly full. The small drizzle that was about to disrupt our ride yet again had cleared, and we were off. It was a great ride that evening, Justin proudly leading, and everything went off without a hitch. As the ride came to a close, the time to tent peg drew closer, and I anxiously knew my brief moment in the spotlight was approaching.
The teams were called in for pegging. I was slotted as Lance 2, Team 2, so we had a team ahead of us yet: perfect time to needlessly build anxiety. Instead though, this time, I decided to do some dry runs standing still. I played around with where I was holding the lance a little, trying to find where the center of balance was. I poked it into the dirt a few times to see where my body naturally placed the lance so in the heat of the moment, I just had to time it right.
It was my turn. “Tent peggers, canter, march!” We cantered a circle around the arena, forming the perimeter around the targets. It was time. The swords went first, both flawlessly scoring points, setting a high bar right out of the gate. My mount Slick, anxious to take off since he knows it’s his turn, explodes into action the moment he feels the slightest pressure. Moving at max speed, the personal stakes being high, adrenaline pumping, my mind blanks out and my muscle memory takes over…
As I conduct my follow-through with the lance, there’s a target skewered at the end of it! I didn’t have much practice at this point removing targets off my lance, but I somehow managed to get it off just before our next run. Slick’s hocks hammered his hind hooves deep into the arena dirt as we took off for our second peg;
Another point! Then another!
Honing my skills paid off. While I didn’t ‘ace’, I got my fair share of points for my family and friends. I was proud to be able to show them my hard work and dedication that pulled through for me when it counted the most.
As the tent pegging demonstration came to a close, we conducted the canter-past and proceeded to dismount. As we untacked and walked out the horses, two proud cavalrymen who made a loud return home got to share a moment with their friends and family. Justin and I will likely remember this experience as amongst the most memorable in our career.