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Training with the Saudi National Guard by Major John Dalziel

Saudi Mounted PoliceThe time was 6.30 in the morning, as I left my private apartment and walked to my vehicle I was already starting to sweat, it was hot and humid the temperature already in the low 80s, by 11am it was going to be too hot to work and I had a meeting with His Highness Prince Faisal at the headquarters of the Saudi Arabian National Guard in Jeddah.

This was my second week in Saudi Arabia and my first meeting with His Highness since my arrival in the country, but first I had to drive to meet the Colonel from the British Military Mission to Saudi.

The first week had been hectic, Officers on secondment were given a course of at least 3 months in the language and the customs of the country, I had been given one week, just as well I am fairly good at languages and had studied at home before my departure from the UK, and of course I had the expertise and words of wisdom from the Colonel of the BMM who made that week interesting and informative.

My meeting was to give an outline of the course I had designed and my thoughts on using the native horse, the Arab, for use in crowd control, His Highness, an acknowledged expert in the breed, was most determined to see if the Arab horse would stand up to the rigors of Mounted Police Style Training.

I have to admit it was strange to be in a Military uniform again, returning salutes etc, but how did I come to be in the country.......

Let me take you back a year previous, I was at the time the Senior Equitation Instructor for the Metropolitan Police in London, and we had a visit from His Highness Prince Faisal who wanted to see the training of Mounted Police Officers.

The day would be spent with the His Highness observing the training of the horses and Officers at Imber Court and a visit to the Public Order training center in Hounslow West London, Riot city, a purpose built facility for riot training.

His Highness was most impressed and from that point he decided he wanted similar training for his own troops.

The year following this visit my friend and colleague Chief Inspector Alan Bingle (also my boss ) made a number of visits to Saudi to pave the way, so to speak for my visit, and without him the project would not have been possible.

I had since retired from the Police due to a number of serious injuries received on duty, but Alan called me and said that His Highness had specifically asked that I go to Saudi and conduct the training and would I be prepared to go, does it snow in Alaska was my reply.

So here I was, ready to start the training, I knew already what his Highness desired from the Soldiers and the horses from the course, time and money were not a problem, I was given my own interpreter, Amin whose English was excellent as was his ability to inflect my own voice patterns into Arabic to achieve the desired effect, Instructors will know what I mean!!!

The training was to be in 3 phases...and I had 2 lieutenants 1 Sergeant Major and 25 other ranks who were the Mounted personel, and at my further disposal a company from the Special Training Battallion including the use of vehicles and weaponary that they used, scary stuff!!!

Phase 1.... to ensure that the horses and riders were capable and fit, this meant the first 5 weeks as a riding course, even though the men were drawn from the Cavalry Squadron and should all be able to ride, I felt I needed to instill a sense of unit pride and to improve the skills they had and to further improve the standard and fitness of the horses. This phase would also give me the chance to assess the horses and the riders.

Phase 2....Introduction to smoke, fire, crowds,and vehicles, as well as working on the streets in pairs. Continuation training of Troop Drills and Public Order drills. Introduction to crowd control Passive and Hostile.

Phase 3...Final phase, Simulated riot training, full riot equipment for horse and rider. Petrol bombs smoke and gunfire as well as a hostile crowd.

Final demonstration..His Highness visited a number of times but a Final Riot demonstration would be used as the Graduation for the Officers, Other Ranks and Horses.

The Horses were all Arab and all mares, horses are not generally gelded so it was more prudent to use mares for the training, I am pleased to say that without exception the Arab horse proved to be most reliable and more than suitable for this project.

The soldiers were harder to win over, I was briefed that if I was invited to breakfast with the troops then I was accepted by them...I have to report that it would be 8 weeks before this happened but happen it did.

Saudi Mounted Police inspectionMy first real problem came during the inspection of the horses after the first mornings training, we had been assigned a couple of Egyptian grooms, the soldiers expected them to wash and groom all the horses and had gone for breakfast, I instructed the somewhat reluctant Sergeant-Major to fetch the Soldiers and to stand by the horse they had ridden for inspection. This did not go down too well, however after a few days it became clear that each soldier started to take particular pride in his assigned horse, and were clamoring to be named as Number one for that day, in fact during training when I swapped horses and riders threats were issued to each other not to damage their horse. By the end of the first week even the British Colonel remarked on how the condition of the horses had improved, praise to the soldiers from a non-horsey person.

The training progressed well, and after the first five weeks I felt confident that we could move onto stage 2, this I felt was going to be the most difficult phase, the introduction of missiles ( in this case tennis balls) fire, weapons fire and noisy crowds, it was also at this stage I noticed something very strange. The horse were all solid colours, chestnut bays and greys, the Grey section 8 horses in all appeared to be the most reluctant to go forward, certainly when approaching a noisy crowd, and when asked to go through fire they were again were most reluctant, they were happy to follow the others but not take the lead, even when I changed riders the same thing happened, and for most of 7 weeks this was to be the pattern.

I think for the soldiers and the 2 officers this was a hard phase, I kept the pressure on, we rode for approx 3 hours every day, and even at 7am the temperature was in the high 80s, this was as well as the lectures in Horse care and Tactics.

Saudi Mounted PoliceI was fortunate to be given soldiers from the Special Training Battalion for use in ground troops and to act as the crowds, as well as all the vehicles flares and smoke bombs and weapons that I required, the General in charge was most helpful in this respect.

The biggest problem for the ground troops was not teaching them crowd work, ie cordons, but to face the crowd and not the horses coming at them from behind, it took a few days and a lot of threats through Ali my interpreter to get them waiting for the whistle to blow before moving in an orderly fashion, of course I think maybe the Mounted soldiers took great delight in taunting them about running them over,and in the initial stages there was a lot of over exuberance when advancing on the volunteer crowd and the police line.

Phase 2 came to an end and the Soldiers and Officers were given a long weekend off to go and visit families, as for myself I was sent South to Taif a Town about 3 hours South of Jeddah, higher up in the mountains, the difference in temperature was very welcome, unlike Jeddah there was no humidity and a good 20 degrees cooler. Modern Barracks were being built near Jeddah as well as stables to house up to 200 horses, however temporary stables were to be built in Taif and I had been asked to give advice on the location and suitability of the selected site, no rest for the wicked, however I did get to do some swimming in the Red sea on my return to Jeddah.

I was pleased the way phase 2 had gone, the Soldiers were now acting and riding as a cohesive unit, the Officers commanding the both Mounted and Dismounted units were working in unison and the horses had become fit and bold, the protective equipment had arrived from the UK and had been fitted and issued to each horse, after the weekend the final phase of training would begin.

Phase 3 the last weeks of training were a question of putting together all the tactics that had been learned, using the Mounted the Riot troops and the crowd each day a different scenario was played out, and as in all training lots of mistakes were made, the biggest shock to the Officers was the lack of ability to communicate to the Soldiers due to the noise of the crowd, (I must also apologies to the Tennis fraternity in Jeddah for buying up all the tennis balls that were to be had), this was something that we had to deal with in my time with the Mounted Police in London until proper comms equipment was issued.

I must point out at this stage that during training the Mounted unit trained using all the different formations, ie wedge, echelons etc but while these formations are good training they have no real value in an actual situation, in the heat of a riot managing to keep in a line abreast is difficult enough, of course if you disagree with me please feel free to contact me and to discus this. and so in our simulated riots and crowd control management the only formation used was either line abreast or two lines to give strength in depth.

I mentioned earlier that the Grey section horses were the most reluctant to go forward, well in the final phase it was the Greys who suddenly came to the fore, a complete turnaround being bold and forward going and something for which I am unable to explain but it was if someone had reprogrammed them.

The project all to soon came to an end, the final phase of training a complete success, the Arab horse adapted extremely well to the rigorous training and not one horse failed during the training, credit here goes to the Soldiers and the Officers with whom I had the honour to Command and train, their determination to succeed their pride in the Mounted Unit was very evident in the manner in which they conducted themselves. His Highness Prince Faisal was extremely pleased that his venture was a success and now awaits the funding to train 200 horses and Soldiers.

I have ommitted, for security reasons, names of the Officers from the British Military mission who where more than helpfull to me during this time and thank them for their hard work and support, also to my interpreter Ali, without him I would still be there trying to express myself.

Whilst serving in the Metropolitan Mounted Police in London we where seen as the last line of defense during civil disorder, in other words the last soft option, if the Mounted was unable to control a situation for which they had trained then the next resort would be rubber bullets and tear gas and the Mounted would have failed, suffice to say the Mounted has never failed, mistakes are made but failure to get the job done is not an option the Mounted Officers countenance.

To those States or Countries who have or are thinking of having a Mounted Unit, make good use of this useful asset, money spent on the training of Horse and Rider and funding for continuation training is money well spent.

One thing I must stress, a Mounted unit should never be used in isolation, dismounted Troops/Police should be used to hold the ground that Mounted has regained, and, as in London and Saudi the training should incorporate ground troops to accustom them to working alongside horses and Training should be as realistic as possible.

Major John Dalziel, Retired

Author: Major John Dalziel, Retired
Senior Equitation Instructor from the Metropolitan Police, London, and
Riding Master for the Saudi Arabian National Guard.

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