Several of them had never ridden or been around a horse before. Some had ridden but it was many years ago.
But during their second day at Pen-Y-Bryn Farm, you couldn’t tell.
Members of the Australian Army’s North West Mobile Force (NORFORCE) and the Canadian Army’s 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (4CRPG) were taking their horses through obstacles, riding on trails and loping around the arena.
Ten members of NORFORCE were in Kersley Oct. 11-14 as part of Exercise Northern Lights, which is being held Oct. 5-21. It is hosted by 4CRPG and is a reciprocal training event where the two army units share best practices, training methods, procedures and cultural aspects unique to both units.
Canadian Ranger Paul Nichols and his wife, Terry, hosted the equine mobility training portion of the exercise at their farm, along with instructors Gary Nicholson, Lori McKenzie, Ryan MacNaughton and Jordan Nichols.
Before coming to Kersley, NORFORCE members participated in cold weather training, mobility training and cultural experiences in Churchill, Man. – where they saw polar bears and saw snow for the first time – and from here, they went to Vancouver Island for wilderness survival training and watermanship training.
Maj. Cole Fletcher is the Officer Commanding for NORFORCE Centre Squadron in Alice Springs. Fletcher has been serving with NORFORCE since January and is still serving as a cavalry officer in the Regular Force. He describes Exercise Northern Lights as “absolutely fantastic.”
“It’s been quite a few once-in-a-lifetime experiences so far. We’ve got to see a completely different environment than what we’re used to in Australia, particularly in the north end, and we’ve got to see the different ways people adapt to their environments.”
Fletcher says one of the biggest things he got out of the horsemanship exercise was the importance of controlling your emotions around horses.
“It’s been a long time since I was taught about horses, but it was very different. This is a much better way to do it.”
Each rider was paired with a horse for the duration of the exercise, caring for their horse and learning the fundamentals of grooming, tacking up and building a relationship on the ground before riding.
“It’s been a fantastic, fantastic experience and much more fulfilling than what I was expecting,” said Pte. Diane Chanut, a Patrolman with NORFORCE Centre Squadron.
Pte. Tim Kingston, a Patrolman with NORFORCE’s Darwin Squadron, says his experience at the farm was much better than he expected.
“To be truthful, I was not looking forward to it, only because it’s way out of my comfort zone and I didn’t know what to expect. It’s been an eye-opener for me, how you can bond with an animal, even more so than a dog in the way the animal responds to you.”
This is the fourth time the Nichols have hosted a basic horsemanship exercise for 4CRPG.
Last year, Paul travelled to Australia with the Rangers and trained with NORFORCE.
“The North West Mobile Force has a very similar history and tasking to the Canadian Rangers, and the military personnel that serve in both forces share many similarities,” he said, adding he was “really thankful” to be able to return the favour after being a guest of the Australian Army and also to be able to call on his community to show the Australians so much hospitality.
A highlight of the exercise for Terry was having the opportunity to share equine assisted mindfulness with the Australian troops, helping them become more aware of how their energy, presence and space affects the horses during one-on-one sessions in the round pen.