Published in An Cosantóir on October 1, 2012.
Written by Sgt Wayne Fitzgerald – Photos Jim O’Connor & Airman Neville Coughlan
Riders from the Army Equitation School, founded in 1926, have represented Ireland and the Defence Forces at European-, World- and Olympic-level.
They have also assisted in Irish team wins in many Aga Khan Trophy successes in the RDS in Dublin. The School’s mission is to advertise the Irish competition horse through participation in international events at the highest level. This they have done remarkably well for nearly 90 years. But what of the backroom staff of any award winning team? In the equestrian sport/discipline a horse and jockey both rely on the ‘Groom’ to that end.
Grooms have come to the equitation school from all corners of Ireland, and from many different walks of life.
The Equitation School have run two grooms courses of six weeks duration this year so far. The course climaxed with the students completing a general test (GT), a riding test and a lunging test – lunging is walking the horse around in a circle which exercises a particular side of the animal. Students are assigned two horses, one to ride and one for lunging; everything is taken into consideration when being assigned a horse, like injuries and size. Then the Grooms had to present themselves and their respective horse for a Commanding Officers (COs) Inspection – which includes getting the horses hair plaited and making sure the Tack i.e. Saddle and Bridle are in pristine condition and that’s before they get their own No1 Uniforms ready.
This year’s courses have attracted a small group of infantry soldiers from Cavan and Cathal Brugha Barracks.
These are their stories on how they made the transition from infantry soldier to groom in six weeks.
“I’ve gone from being a car commander of a 400-horsepower Mowag APC to looking after a one-horsepower animal” – Cpl Thomas Craig
1st GROOMS COURSE (13/02/12 TO 24/03/12)
Pte Seán Davidson from Termonfeckin came from 2 Inf Bn with 12yrs service and three trips overseas to Lebanon (x2) and Liberia. “I have never had any experience with horses,” he says. “I just fancied a change and haven’t regretted it once … now we are looking forward to travelling to international shows.”
Pte Patrick Hessin from Cootehill has 8yrs service and one overseas trip with 100 Inf Bn in Chad. “I started out in 27 Inf Bn in Monaghan,” he told us, “but on the closure of that barracks I was posted to 6 Inf Bn in Cavan. Then with Cavan closing I saw this course advertised in routine orders. I have no prior experience with horses but I’ve found it great so far.”
Pte Gerard McCaffrey from Cavan Town has 13yrs service and has served overseas three times in Lebanon, Liberia and Chad. “I was a chef in Cavan Bks for seven years and when the barracks closed I fancied a change,” he says. “I have some prior experience having completed a Certificate in Equestrian Studies and Business Management prior to joining the Defence Forces and I ride for my local club Red Hills Equestrian Centre. I had applied for the grooms course as far back as 2000, but my unit was unable to release me at the time.”
2nd GROOMS COURSE (16/04/12 – 23/05/12)
Cpl Ritchie Costello from Cavan Town has 25yrs service and four trips overseas to Lebanon (x3) and Liberia. “I joined up in 1987,” he says, “and was posted to 29 Inf Bn in the old Cavan Bks before we moved to the new barracks on the Dublin Road.
When that closed we were posted to 6 Inf Bn, Athlone. Having worked with horses prior to joining up I applied for this course. You know, a lot of people think we just shovel you-know-what but they don’t know the half of it; we were taught about veterinarian medicine, the horse’s digestion system and its psychology, among other things.”
Pte Francie Lane from Laragh, Co. Cavan has 25 yrs service with five trips overseas to Lebanon (x2), Kosovo (x2) and Chad. “I trained in Gormonstown before being posted to 29 Inf Bn in Cootehill,” he told us. “That closed in 1990 and then in 1998 we were posted to 6 Inf Bn in Cavan and now that’s closed. I worked with horses before joining the DF; that’s why I applied for the course.”
Cpl Thomas Craig from Ballyhaise has 9yrs service and two trips overseas to Liberia and Lebanon. “I trained in Gormonstown and was posted to 2 Fd Arty Regt in McKee Bks for four years before I transferred to 27 Inf Bn in Monaghan. When that barracks closed I went to Cavan Bks, but that’s closed now and here I am back in McKee: I’ve come full circle. I have no prior experience with horses but I like animals.
Six weeks ago I knew nothing about horses but now we can all ride and jump fences. I’ve gone from being a car commander of a 400-horsepower Mowag APC to looking after a one-horsepower animal; and believe me the one-horsepower is more high maintenance. Still, I’m definitely happy I made the move.”
Pte Keith Costello from Cavan Town has 5yrs service and served overseas with 104 Inf Bn in Lebanon. “I trained in Cavan Bks with 6 Inf Bn and was overseas with Cpl Craig when the barracks was closing. On returning home we both applied for the grooms course and were successful. I had no experience with horses before this, although I have an uncle who works in the Equitation School, so that did help my decision to apply.”
The course commander was Lt David Power and the chief instructor was Sgt Elaine Price. There are no plans to recruit any more grooms this year, but they do intend to run an advanced grooms course later in the year.