By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs
Victoria, British Columbia — The Canadian Army (CA) may have plenty of high technology and complex vehicles at its disposal, but there will always be situations that demand much simpler approaches to things. As Exercise CHOKE APPLE (Ex CHOKE APPLE) proved recently, sometimes only a horse will do.
This year’s edition of Ex CHOKE APPLE, this past summer, brought together personnel from the CA’s 3rd Canadian Division, including members of 4 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (4 CRPG) along with Regular Force and Army Reserve troops, to learn skills associated with using one of the world’s oldest forms of transportation: horses.
CHOKE APPLE was a decidedly tongue-in-cheek choice for a name: newcomers to horse riding are prone to grabbing the pommel, the raised part of the saddle in front of the rider. Pommel is derived from ‘pomum,’ Latin for ‘apple.’ Seasoned riders therefore refer to novice riders as ‘apple chokers.’
Lieutenant-Colonel Russ Meades, commanding officer of 4 CRPG, said the exercise is aimed mainly at Canadian Rangers, a sub-component of the Army Reserve that carries out national security and public safety missions in Canada’s sparsely settled northern, coastal and more isolated areas.
“Primarily horseback riding is mobility training for Canadian Rangers,” he explained. “A lot of our terrain is extremely rugged and there are places even ATVs or snowmobiles can’t get to. And one viable alternative is horses.”
4 CRPG is fortunate to have a number of experts in all things equine within its own ranks. Canadian Ranger Paul Nichols hosted Ex CHOKE APPLE, along with his wife Terry, at their own Pen-Y-Bryn Farm near Quesnel, British Columbia.
“With the long legs that a horse has, it can step through country that would snarl up a wheeled vehicle,” Ranger Nichols said. “And the other part of it is that we can move very quietly. And they have incredible senses. They’re constantly aware, constantly scanning for noises or any kind of disturbance in the bush. And if you’re in tune with your horses they will tell and show you much more than we can see or feel.”
It is Canadian Rangers who are most likely to be first on the scene of remote search and rescue missions and other similar scenarios, LCol Meades added, but there is good reason to include Reservists and Regular Force members in this training.
“There’s a lot of scope for Canadian Rangers, Regular Force, and Reserve troops to interact together,” he said. “The more they do, the more they’re used to each other and the better integrated and cohesive they will be when it comes to doing it for real.”
Terry Nichols is well-regarded in the field of equine-assisted therapy, which has documented benefits for soldiers who have experienced trauma. The animals are highly sensitive to a rider’s mood and more responsive to commands when he or she projects strength, for example, so riding can help a traumatized soldier regain lost confidence.
Therapeutic work was not officially part of Ex CHOKE APPLE, LCol Meades noted, but was among topics discussed by the participants after the formal daytime activities had ended.
“The energy that the human is giving off to that horse will decide in large measure what the relationship is going to be like,” he said. “The horse is capable of drawing out certain issues in a person’s life. I’ve personally seen a person brought to tears simply by being in the presence of a horse. It is quite amazing.”
Ranger Nichols likened his role in Ex CHOKE APPLE to that of an instructor offering a military driving course, and Terry Nichols offered a different perspective.
“Terry is a gifted horsewoman and really has a feel for what makes a horse work – inside their heads,” he said. “If you want to get the most out of your horses, you have to get inside their heads. You have to convince them this is the right idea, that where we’re going makes sense and that we have their best interests at heart. So this is a really good tie-in to leadership training.”
LCol Meades added that Ex CHOKE APPLE is a good fit with the CA’s multifaceted approach to taking care of its members.
“We’re approaching things like personal awareness, spiritual fitness, physical fitness, familial fitness, relational fitness,” he said. “These are things that, if addressed appropriately, build resiliency in the individual and therefore in the institution. And if we address that in part with CHOKE APPLE, then we have absolutely got our money’s worth and so has the public.”