From a Ghillie Suit to a Brass Helmet
Writen By; Trp Alexander Aguila
When I joined the Canadian Forces as an Armour Crewman, I pictured myself surrounded by armoured vehicles. I anticipated first becoming a driver, then a gunner, and hopefully someday a crew commander of the Coyote reconnaissance vehicle; a 13-ton beast of war. Who would have thought that my career would lead me to being a Rider in the Strathcona Mounted Troop (SMT).
Before coming to SMT in October 2012, I was a Coyote Surveillance Operator in a 3 Troop Recce Squadron. Clearly, there was going to be a very big change to my working environments. I went from leopard crawling through the woods in a ghillie suit, to riding (and falling off) a 1200 pound horse. However, I soon found out that The Basic Equine Ride Course, which all new members of SMT must go through, was run the same as every other course I had taken in the army. When I was first introduced to the Coyote, how to safely mount and operate the vehicle was drilled into me. Likewise, when I first started working on horses, they taught me how to safely “mount” and control my horse. The major difference was that, unlike a Coyote, this new platform had a mind of its own.
I never grew up around large animals, so at first I was a bit uncomfortable interacting with the horses. The thought that immediately came to mind when working around my horse was, “please don’t kick me.” I remember the first time I groomed a horse by myself, working around the rear area felt like I was diffusing a C4 Bomb; one wrong move and it was going to detonate. One thing everyone needs to learn is that despite their huge size, you need to always stay calm around horses. A horse tends to mirror its riders body language and state of mind. If you are nervous and excited around them, they will be a pain to deal with. I found that, as long as I treated my mount with calm respect, the bomb never detonated.
Strathcona Mounted Troop is a great place to work, not simply because you get to ride horses, but because you develop a strong bound with your mount. As long as you take the time to properly care for him, he will give you everything he’s got. People say that, “A dog is a man’s best friend.” I disagree, nothing can compare with riding your horse and working together as a team to achieve a common goal. I learnt that, just like soldiers, every horse is unique and has a distinct personality. Some are switched on and eagerly work 100% of the time, while others often require a bit of a kick to get them to do what you want.
Being a Rider is no easy job. The way I look at it, you are the Crew Commander and the horse is your Driver. You let him know what you want him to do and where you want him to go, while maintaining situational awareness of what is happening around you with other riders in the Musical Ride. The main difference is that I sometimes direct my horse to go forward but he decides that backwards is a better direction.
During the Musical Ride, we perform moves such as the Maze, Double Dome, and Slingshot, which are very complicated and hard to properly accomplish. If we are not always alert there is the very real chance that horses could collide at a full canter, causing serious injury to riders and their mounts. Every member of the Troop must keep proper timing and spacing in mind in order to prevent injuries, and perform a professional quality ride. In my opinion, without a doubt, SMT is one of the hardest working and most rewarding Troops in the Regiment; we work together, we laugh together and we ride together.
I am very proud that I am now part of the Strathcona Mounted Troop. Getting the chance to be part of this Troop has definitely made me a stronger individual. It has showed me that anything is possible if you put your heart and mind into it. I look forward to my first season performing the Musical Ride across Canada, and can assure you that each one of us has worked extremely hard to come this far. To me, it is a great honour to continue the tradition of Canadian mounted soldiers who came before me, and to be part of the living history of the Lord Strathcona Horse Royal Canadians.