I spent the summers of 1956 and 1957 (ages seven and eight) on the cattle ranch of friends of my mother in Idaho. There I learned how to ride and shoot. I also came to learn about cow ponies. Cow ponies were smart, professional and did most of the actual work… you just pointed them at what cattle you wanted to keep away from the fence repairs and they wouldn’t let it within five feet of the fence.

My next experience was at the other end of the scale. After I’d been in Rhodesia (1976) for a month I enlisted in the British South Africa Police — the national police force of Rhodesia. At the time the Bush War was waging. This would be my second war.

Just as the British East India Company had settled India, Rhodesia was settled by the British South Africa Company, which had its own police force (BSAP). The BSAP had a history much like the Texas Rangers on the American frontier. Its men had both police and military responsibilities.

During much of the Bush War, I would be with the Police Anti-Terrorist Units (PATU) in the bush going after hot and cold running terrorists armed and trained by the Russians, East Germans and Cubans from across the border in Mozambique.

The good news was that the BSAP was highly professional and very effective in the bush. The bad news was that at the training base in Salisbury (Morris Depot) they still had horses.

After the Matabele and the Shona wars of the late 1890s, the majority of BSAP officers rode one-man patrols covering a couple of hundred square miles each. Camels were tried briefly in the early 1900s because they were more resistant to tropical diseases that were prevalent in some of the areas at the time; but horses won out in the end. The last of the horse patrols ran in the early 1950s when Land Rovers became standard issue. Of course, there were some used as an honor guard for parades and such: In the BSAP the idea of horses died hard.

Rhodesian Mounted Infantry
(Courtesy of author)

Another reason for keeping horses at Morris Depot was that at the South end of the country, which was a bit drier and more wide-open veldt, the BSAP had a (horse) “Mounted Infantry Unit.”

Keep in mind though, that these were mounted infantry, not cavalry, though they could fight from the saddle if required. (The Rhodesian Army also had the Grey’s Scouts, again, a mounted infantry unit. Both units were a mixture of black and white troops.)