Soldiers saddle up

Rangers learn to work from the back of a horse at Pen-Y-Bryn

Paul Nichols keeps a close eye on the students.

Paul Nichols keeps a close eye on the students.

When the military arrived at Pen-Y-Bryn farm, just south of Kersley, it wasn’t so much a military exercise as an outdoor classroom where horses were desks and Paul Nichols, his family and several local equine experts were the teachers.

Nichols is a member of the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. The role of the Rangers is to provide a military reserve presence in those sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada which can not conveniently or economically be covered by other elements of the military. They provide lightly equipped, self-sufficient mobile forces in support of the Canadian Forces’ sovereignty (above the 60th parallel) and domestic operation tasks.

However, up to now that has never included on horseback.

Nichols saw an opportunity to bring his extensive horse skills to the Ranger training program.

The 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group covers Western Canada from Haida Gwaii to Manitoba and provides the eyes and ears for Canadian Forces and the Government of Canada, Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Byers said.

There are 42 patrol locations within the 4th Ranger Patrol, 25 of which are in B.C.

“We go into areas and recruit those with existing skills such as hunting, fishing, trapping, boat skills and other local expertise. They know their area very well,” he said.

“What we’re looking for is to tap into existing skills which the military needs to operate in every part of Canada. These rangers are essential to Canada.”

Nichols is uniquely positioned to be a Ranger as he has a military background in addition to his horsemanship and other skills.

As ex-military, Nichols brings the ability to bridge between civil powers and regular army. He knows both sides.

Rangers came for the horse training course from across the patrol area and somewhat unusual, the students also included regular military personnel.

“Most of the soldiers and rangers had very little exposure to horses so we went through a few days of introduction to horses then some went on advanced trail rides,” Beyers said.

“To be fair, some of those on the advanced rides had never been on a horse before coming to the course.”

Nichols said he was out to prove, in five days, he could take people with no riding experience, teach them the skills they need and cover ground inaccessible to all-terrain vehicles.

“And we did it,” he said.

But Nichols wasn’t alone. He drew on the expertise of local horse people such as Gary Nicholson and of course his own wife Terry and daughters Jordan and Kirsten.

“We had a really great crew at the farm. I think as challenges came up we quickly worked together, everyone was very like-minded with different approaches to solving the same problem,” he said.

“Of course there were problems, but nothing we couldn’t overcome.”

Both Beyers and Nichols agreed the week-long training session was a huge success.

“I think it went outstanding,” Beyers said.

“We’re looking to do it again next year.”

He also said with the training session including regular soldiers it was a great introduction of the rangers and their skills to armed forces personnel.

“Rangers aren’t as well-known to the regular soldiers, but in current military thinking, rangers are considered an essential service, so as we better educate the regular soldiers on the abilities of these rangers, it’s excellent for the military and the Canadian Government,” he added.

The operations group will be back in Quesnel in September to discuss next year’s training and other options for incorporating horses in not only the ranger program but also possibly the regular military. There are also possibilities for a horse program with the Junior Rangers, which are similar to the cadet program.

Nichols looks forward to new opportunities and says one of the things Pen-Y-Bryn farm does very well is partnerships.

“With such groups as CHAAPS, high school programs and 4-H horse programs, we provide the facility and we help them out where we can, but basically they’re on their own,” he said.

“This is just another partnership for us, but one that is very close to my heart.”

Terry and Paul are hosting a barbecue on Sunday, June 23, 6:30 p.m. at Pen-Y-Bryn for all the local people who assisted with the week-long Ranger training session.

“Kersley Community Association was particularly helpful.

However, they also welcome to public to drop by to find out more about Pen-Y-Bryn, the Ranger program and what the Nichols family does on the farm.