When an RCMP officer is dressed in the traditional RCMP scarlet serge jacket, blue breeches featuring a bold yellow stripe, long shiny brown boots with jack spurs and brown serge leather gloves, that officer attracts attention and respect. But when 33 RCMP officers mounted on black horses in the same ceremonial dress enter the arena to perform the colorful and prestigious Musical Ride, they are captivating as they perform a variety of intricate figures and cavalry drills.
The Musical Ride is performed by a troop of 32 riders and horses, plus the member (Commander) in charge and is choreographed to music.
“Demanding utmost control, timing and coordination, the movements are formed by individual horses and riders, in two's, four's and eight's at the trot and at the canter. Months of training, practice and many kilometres/miles around the riding school make horse and rider one.”
The RCMP Musical Ride tours throughout Canada, the United States and other international venues, performing at approximately forty to fifty locations a year between the months of May and October.
Thirty-six riders, thirty-six horses, a farrier, a technical production manager and three Non-Commissioned Officers travel with the Musical Ride on tour.
The Wetaskiwin Ag Society grounds were literally jam-packed with vehicles and people the evening of Wednesday, August 20th, for the RCMP Musical Ride.
The gates opened at 5:00 pm and as it got closer to the 7:00 pm show time, traffic was backed up onto the highway leading into the grounds. The regular bleachers were full, extra bleachers brought in for the event were full, and the rest of the people surrounding the entire arena were either standing or sitting in lawn chairs. Although the official numbers are not in, it was estimated that more than 2000 people attended the event.
As impressive as The Musical Ride was, the opening acts were equally entertaining. Leading the way was the kid’s wild pony races. Teams of 3 young cowboys and cowgirls were in front of the chutes and when their turn came to compete, the wild pony was released with the 3 kids hanging on to a halter shank. Along with being drug in the dust, thrown down, and losing grip of the halter shank, the winning team was determined by the team that managed to have one of their members mount the pony in the shortest time. Another timed event, the mini chuckwagon races, had 2 teams consisting of 4 ponies each competing in timed heats. As the wagons sped around the arena, drivers carefully balanced their efforts to get their team to go faster with steadying the skidding wagon as it rounded the corners. The final opening act was the RCMP dog handling demonstration. After explaining details about the dog handling unit of the RCMP, the officer signalled the dog to search five cases for drugs. The dog quickly identified the suspect case and anxiously awaited the officer to relieve him of his search duties. The finale was apprehending a potential villain or criminal. With the participation of a live and brave male decoy acting as a criminal, the dog was allowed to restrain the person who appeared to be attacking the officer. One heavily padded arm protector was jerked off the attacker who was restrained by the other arm until the handler called it off.
But then, all the eyes in the arena turned to the north as the RCMP commander and the 32 officers on 32 majestic black horses entered the arena. In 1873, the horses of the North-West Mounted Police had to be rugged and tough, since they were the primary mode of transportation for officers. The horses that entered the arena in Wetaskiwin were black, elegant, athletic and well mannered. But they are also rugged and tough enough to participate in approximately one hundred performances of the Musical Ride each year.
Although legend has it that the first Musical Ride was performed as early as 1876, the first officially recorded Musical Ride was performed in Regina under Inspector William George Matthews in 1887. The Musical Ride was developed from a desire by early members of the North-West Mounted Police to display their riding ability and entertain both themselves and the local community. Considering the original Mounted Police members had a British military background, it was inevitable that the series of figures they performed were traditional cavalry drill movements. These movements formed the basis of today’s performance that is enjoyed throughout the world.
Members of the Musical Ride are, first and foremost, police officers who after at least two years of active police work, volunteer for duty with the Musical Ride. Most members are non-riders prior to their equestrian training with the RCMP. However, once they complete the courses of instruction, they not only become riders, but ambassadors of goodwill. Working through a unique medium, they promote the RCMP's image throughout Canada and the world. RCMP members only remain with the Musical Ride for three years which ensures an annual rotation of approximately one third (33%) of the riders.
The RCMP has bred and raised its own horses since 1939 and today the national police force is known to produce some of the finest horses in the country. The RCMP horse breeding program began at Depot Division, Regina, Saskatchewan, and was subsequently moved to Fort Walsh in 1942, the site of a North-West Mounted Police Fort built in 1875 in the beautiful Cypress Hills of south western Saskatchewan. Fort Walsh was home of the breeding program until 1968 when the operation was moved to Pakenham, Ontario, about 50 km. west of Ottawa. The horses spend the first three years of their life, growing, developing and maturing before becoming Musical Ride horses and moving to the home of the Musical Ride, the Rockcliffe Park Equestrian Centre in Ottawa, Ontario.
Over the years, the popularity of the Musical Ride has grown. Today, it is one of the most popular Canadian symbols around the world. For more information, please visit the RCMP website at www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca or contact National Communication Services Directorate at (613) 843-5999 (Fax: (613)-825-8250).
See more event photos in this week’s paper.
Pictured: RCMP riders and mounts enter the Wetaskiwin Ag Grounds. Photo by Barry MacDonald