By Bonnie Sitter
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)Musical Ride wowed the crowd with a third visit to Exeter in September. The previous years were 2008 and 2016. It is a big commitment for the organizing committee to arrange the facilities and prepare stables for the horses. The RCMP presents shows throughout Canada and this year they performed in Southern Ontario, the Maritimes and Saskatchewan. They travel to every province on a rotational basis every four years. Their home base is at the RCMP stables in Ottawa. After a two-year pause because of COVID-19, they resumed performances in July.
If you have not experienced the musical ride it is truly a Canadian icon. It is advertised as a symbol of tradition, honour and pride and plays a part in recruiting officers. The 30-minute show is preceded by a lengthy “warm-up” which is also entertaining. The officers and their horses execute a variety of cavalry drills that are choreographed to music. The basis of the ride’s movements stems from the ability to move a mounted cavalry regiment with some form of organization. Examples: single file, half sections and sections at all three paces. The show ends with a cavalry charge so the audience is alerted to have their cameras ready.
After the performances in Exeter, the audience was invited to visit the stables to see the horses up close and ask questions of the officers as they fed and watered their mounts and cleaned their tack. The horses were content and their black coats were shining! The mounties were obviously happy too. There were smiles everywhere. Both parents and children were excited as they collected the cards with the mounties’ photos on them, posing with their horses of course. It was like collecting hockey and baseball cards. Every question was taken seriously and answered without hesitation as they continued to brush their horses and pose for photos.
One of the questions was about what breed of horses they ride. They replied that their black horses are mostly thoroughbred blood. However, in 1989, Hanoverian stallions and mares were introduced to enhance their quality, size and colour. Most of the horses are 16 hands in height and weigh between 1200 and 1300 pounds.
History and Interesting Facts
The first recorded public display of the Musical Ride was in Regina in 1901. The number of officers and horses does vary but the troop can have as many as 32 riders, both men and women, who are all police officers. Officers apply to train and perform in the musical ride. Essentially it is a year of training and three years of touring. When accepted to join, you do not have to have experience riding horses. Equestrian training stopped being mandatory for all recruits in 1966. Since then, only members assigned to the Musical Ride receive the training.
In 1967, Canada’s Centennial year, the ride managed to perform in nine provinces. Only B.C. missed out that year. The musical ride travelled by air for the first time in 1968 when it performed in Bermuda. Since then the performance has been seen in Asia, Continental Europe, and Great Britain.
There is an interesting history between the RCMP and our late Queen Elizabeth ll. The RCMP was aware of the Queen’s keen interest in horses and they gifted her eight horses over the years beginning with Burmese in 1969. The Queen was an Honorary Commissioner of the RCMP. She rode Burmese each year for 18 years at the annual Trooping of the Colour an event to celebrate her birthday. The horse, Centenial (only one ‘n’), was gifted in 1973 but stayed at the Ottawa stables and received training in the Musical Ride until 1977. James was gifted in 1998 and George in 2009. When the mare named Elizabeth was gifted to the Queen, she said she would have her bred and the first foal would be gifted back to the RCMP. The Queen fulfilled that promise and a filly named Victoria came to Ottawa in 2018. Horses named Sir John, Kluane and Darby were gifted to Queen Elizabeth ll between 2016 and 2019. All the horses were chosen because of their size, colour and temperament.
The Musical Ride was performed at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth ll in 1953. Four officers were given the honour of leading the way at Her Majesty’s recent funeral and the horses they rode were ones they had gifted her. The Queen had specifically requested that The Mounties be there for her funeral.
There is an opportunity for children to submit names for foals that are born at the RCMP Stables in Ottawa. Each year a letter of the alphabet is chosen and the contest requires that the name starts with that letter. https://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/musical-ride/name-the-foal-contest
The Royal Winter Fair will celebrate 100 years this November and the Musical Ride will be there to help celebrate. ◊