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Leading with the Light Horse

Apr 23, 2019 | Features

As ANZAC Day approaches, Lyn Gurney will have been preparing herself and her horses, Bella and Ollie, for many months. Parade appearances as a member of the 5th Light Horse Regiment: Maleny Troop, is Lyn’s way of honouring the fallen men and horses of World War I.

by Jacqui Hensel

As a sergeant in the Maleny 5th Light Horse Regiment for over 15 years, Lyn Gurney has polished plenty of brass and leather, but getting the gear ready for the big day is only a small part of the preparation behind a parade appearance.

The Light Horse kits are original where available, with authentic replicas making up the rest. The saddles, bridles and rider’s tunics are as exact as possible.

Lyn and her daughter Karen are long-term members of the Maleny 5th Light Horse Regiment and their duties have taken them all over the Sunshine Coast.

“Working with members from the Woombye and Gympie Regiments, we participate in parades, school visits, aged care home visits; and we also took part in the Centenary Ride over the Story Bridge in September 2014 that formed part of the Riverfire Celebrations,” shared Lyn.

Marking the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of troop movements for World War I, the ride of 100 horses commemorated the men and horses who mustered through the early morning streets of Brisbane to get to the ships at Pinkenbah in 1914.

“It was wonderful. It’s hard to describe the feeling of riding with so many others, all in formation, crossing the bridge. The sound of the horses shoes on the bitumen ricocheting around the buildings and the little sparks we could see in the dark,” Lyn enthused.

“I’ll never forget that. It made all those horses and men who made that journey a hundred years ago, feel very close.”

The Light Horse Regiments were used as fast-moving infantry and engaged in combat dismounted. The exception was the charge of the 4th and 12th Light Horse Regiments at Beersheba on October 31, 1917, where the horses were ridden into combat in a cavalry style. The Beersheba Campaign is seen as the turning point of the war in the Middle East.

The mounted men also made excellent scouts, long-range patrols and raiding parties, often spearheading advancing forces.

The Beersheba Military Museum stands proudly on the precinct in Maleny, as many of the troops originated from the surrounding area.

“The horses used by the Light Horse Regiments were known as Walers,” said Lyn. “They were a particularly hardy breed that could work in rough, dry conditions on less feed and water than other breeds at the time.

“The name Walers came from their New South Wales point of origin, although many of the horses were bred in Queensland and Victoria too.”

Overall the British Military took 136,000 horses from Australia in World War I including heavy and light horses. Many were lost to starvation, disease and in battle. The remaining 11,000 horses were used as military mounts in British India and for the Mounted Police Force. They could not be returned home due to quarantine restrictions.

However, it is the desire to preserve the memory of those men who made such sacrifices that sees the 5th Light Horse Regiment Maleny Troop gather for training on the last Saturday of each month next to the Beersheba Living Museum.

Today, the horses are trained for parades and to work in sets of four. While remaining in formation is a big part of the training, the bigger focus is on teaching a horse to remain calm in a crowded situation.

“Clapping is the biggest thing a horse needs to tolerate,” Lyn shared. “They find it quite unnerving as it stops them from hearing other threats. An animal built for flight relies on their hearing to keep themselves safe.

“The other part  of parade training is around tolerating aircraft noise. You don’t want an animal this size to bolt through the crowd,” Lyn said wryly, “though, there is nothing better than when a horse decides he trusts you.

“I’ve ridden horses since I was two-years-old as I grew up on a farm in the Beaudesert area. I’ve always loved being on the land and I’ve always had horses and dogs.

“It’s so important to keep the ANZAC spirit alive, and being on my horse in the parade is such a great feeling. ANZAC Day itself is growing.

“It’s such a proud moment when you go past the people on your horse. You know you and your horse are both turned out the best you can be – the applause gets noticeably louder for the horses,” Lyn said with pride.

“But ANZAC Day is for everyone. It’s important to keep it what it is today, to honour the memory of the fallen and to maintain the pride in military service that is a big part of who we are as Australians.”

Lyn paused, before adding, “I don’t like to say it, but our members are growing older and we can’t keep doing this forever – as much as we want to.

“We need to increase our numbers if we are going to continue to appear with the horses at ANZAC Day Parades. It would be nice to hand the baton forward to younger people and allow them to experience everything we have been representing,” she said with a smile.

Anyone interested in the 5th Light Horse Maleny Troop is urged to call Sergeant Lyn Gurney 54999660 (evenings) or Troop Commander Rob Weary 042266842

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