New recruits saddle up at CFB Edmonton
Lord Strathcona’s Horse mounted troop a ‘cool and unique’ experience for soldiers
Stepping into the stables at CFB Edmonton is like trotting back in time.
"It's a way of keeping the history and tradition of the calvary alive in Western Canada," said troop leader Capt. Erik Giajnorio.
The Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) ceremonial mounted troop is made up of 26 soldiers and their horses. The troop travels to powwows, rodeos and schools, performing a musical ride-style show inspired by the military history of the regiment.
"Instead of leading soldiers, you actually get to work with the horses and lead from horseback, so it's something both cool and unique that you don't get to do in the traditional army," Giajnorio said.
"The kids love it. They're all shouting and screaming, and it's a great time — and especially performing at events like the Calgary Stampede," said Cpl. Curtis Paquette, who has been riding with the troop for seven years.
Many people are shocked to hear the military does its own musical ride, like the RCMP. Paquette said they're currently the only regular force regiment using horses this way.
The original ceremonial mounted troop was formed in 1923 but was disbanded during the Second World War with a move to armoured vehicles. The current troop, revived in 1977, is financially supported by a not-for-profit foundation.
Right now they're training for an appearance at this year's Grey Cup and getting ready to work with injured veterans with the Soldier On program. But their biggest task is training new riders for the shows slated in the spring of 2020.
"Some of them are scared of horses. We're getting, 'Oh my God, what did I get myself into?'" said Paquette, who remembers moving from tanks to training with the animals.
"After that initial shock period I fell in love and I've loved working here ever since."
Starting in October, Paquette and others will put the new recruits through six months of training, from classroom lectures to caring for their animals. They will also learn techniques and moves for riding alongside the rest of the troop.
"It forces you to see yourself in a different light. It makes you do things you didn't think you could do, in a good way," said Cpl. Brennan Maddison, who has been with the troop for four years.
"It forces you to really dig deep down and bring out the best in yourself through one of these amazing animals," he said, pointing to his mount.
"He's a bit troublesome some days but he's as tough as whale bone," said the soldier from New Minas, N.S.
"They're just like people. If they're having a bad day then you feel it, and the whole point is to connect with the horse — to calm them down, to have them work with you, instead of against you."
Maddison admits he had zero experience with horses before this.
"You come down here and you could know absolutely nothing about a horse other than where the head is, and by the end of the course you're usually riding in the action musical ride itself. It's incredible."
You can see more on this week's Our Edmonton, Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and Monday at 11 a.m on CBC TV.