Thursday, 18 Jul 2024

It’s neigh problem as stunt aces teach soldiers how to ride – and fall

They present a spectacle beloved by millions, as they perform their royal duties with precision and aplomb.

But even the most seasoned rider with the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment can have an off day. And a tumble by someone in training can lead to a nasty break and months in plaster, causing the recruit to miss their slot.

Now a solution is at hand – courtesy of a team of professional stunt riders.

So keen was S/Cpl Stephen Heeley, a senior trainer at Combermere Barracks in Windsor, to ensure that soldiers made it through training unscathed, that he contacted the Centre of Horseback Combat.

Trainers at the centre, in Hemel Hempstead, have taught more than 6,000 riders how to transform their experience on the saddle since opening their doors in 2010. These include the pop star Harry Styles, who was taught to rear on a horse for the video of his smash hit Daylight.

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Their unique lessons extend beyond simply falling properly, to include how to deal with a rearing horse, what to do if a horse is spooked or slips and even a course in psychology.

Millions watched one such incident during the Coronation in May, when a trooper’s horse was spooked and backed dangerously into metal railings packed with onlookers. A one-day pilot proved so successful that it has now become a permanent fixture.

“If a soldier is injured for a few months they may not complete the training at all, or may form some sort of fear of horses,” said training wing boss Capt Mark Quickfall to Soldier magazine.

Confidence to cope with any eventually in the saddle gives troopers the mental calmness which allows muscle memory to take over and protect from painful injuries during a fall.

“Just like if you have a weapon stoppage, you take a knee and look at the cocking handle. we want them not to put a hand out if they fall so that they minimise the chance of damage,” he said.

“Obviously, the best thing is to remain on the horse if you can, so the session covers that too, but sometimes falling can’t be helped. Our goal is that they develop the right habits, which they continue when they get to the regiment and hopefully go on to have a long career with us “

Contrary to popular perception, a large proportion of new recruits who join the Household Cavalry do not know how to ride. Some, like Trooper Lois Norton of the Life Guards, had not even intended to join a mounted regiment.

“I was doing phase two training to join the Infantry, but I got injured and thought there were more opportunities for me here so I transferred across. I’d never been around horses ,“ she said. The young trooper is no stranger to falling.

“The second time I landed in a funny place on my back and it hurt for a few days, but I pushed through and it was fine. The best thing is to jump straight back on before you have time to think about it.”

She added; “ This course prepares you for the horse doing something unexpected. like rearing or bucking or vou fall off for whatever reason. It teaches you to keep your composure, to deal with it properly and not freak out and get injured. Hopefully by the time we learn to ride in the ceremonial kit won’t be worrying, “

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She is not alone. Trooper Oliver Judge, of the Blues and Royals, has fallen off six times during training. “I’d never touched a horse before and at first I was nervous. but I’ve really grown to like them now – although they will definitely take advantage if you’re inexperienced,“ he said.

“I’ve fallen off six times. Now at least when I fall I know the correct position to get myself in before hitting the ground. “

Lt Charlie Carr-Smith, of the Life Guards regiment, said: “Learning what to do when things go wrong was a confidence booster.

“You have to try and stop the instinct to put your arm out. That’s how you usually end up breaking your hands, wrists or arms.”
Last night CHC director Zana Cousins-Greenwood told the Sunday Express: “We were approached by the Army by email in January, asking if we can teach mounted members of the Household regiment how to fall safely.

‘We were happy to help. We offer a unique service and are a perfect fit for the military. Our trained stunt horses are calm and experienced and can rear or even lay down on command, which helps teach riders what to do to deal with situations calmly, correctly and quickly.

“Our Rider Confidence course also teaches riders of all levels to understand horses better, in order to prevent behaviours in the first place.”

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