The RCMP Musical Ride is a highly appreciated event in Canada. The beautiful black horses and the scarlet jackets of the riders make an attractive combination. The ride is a set of cavalry drills performed to music, but this rather dry definition doesn’t do it justice. The coordination of the horses and the intricate patterns that they produce by their movements are impressive. I’ve seen the event multiple times at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) in Vancouver and always enjoy the performance.
The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) is Canada’s national police force. Historically, the members of the force patrolled areas on horseback, as their name suggests. The forerunner of the RCMP was called the North-West Mounted Police. The group was established in 1873 to patrol “Rupert’s Land”, which had been acquired by the Canadian government from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1869. Rupert’s Land consisted of what is today known as Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, and the eastern part of the Northwest Territories.
The RCMP Musical Ride began as a way to show off the equestrian skills needed for policing the Prairies in the late 1800s. — RCMP website
RCMP officers patrol in cars today, as many other police forces do, and wear their dress uniform only for special events. A mounted division of the force remains in the form of the musical ride, however.
Today’s dress uniform of an RCMP officer consists of a beige hat in a Stetson style, a long scarlet jacket (sometimes known as red serge), midnight blue riding pants with a yellow strip down the outer side of each leg, and tall brown boots. A brown belt is worn around the waist of the jacket. Other accessories are also worn. Like the dress pants, the ones of the utilitarian day uniform have a yellow stripe down the side of each leg.
The lighting conditions and my camera’s ability make the red serge look more orange that it is in real life and make some of the horses look brown in my photos. The appearance of the jacket and animals in the photo at the start of this article is more accurate. “Scarlet” is red with an orange tinge. It’s sometimes hard to depict the colour of the scarlet jackets accurately in photos.
The ride’s permanent home is in Ontario. Here the horses are bred on a farm in Pakenham. They are trained at the Rockcliffe Park Equestrian Centre in Ottawa. The public can take a guided tour of this centre. The horses perform in shows from May to October.
The horses belong to the Hanoverian breed. The breed generally has a good temperament, deals well with the succession of new environments that the musical ride horses experience, and is athletic. It also has a good probability of being black in colour.
The RCMP breeds its own horses. The offspring that aren’t black are sold. They are popular with buyers. They can be great performers in other equine events and can also make good personal or family horses.
The performing group currently includes 32 riders and horses plus the member in charge. Other RCMP members are involved in created a successful production and other horses are available if they’re needed. The riders are regular members of the RCMP. Many of them have no experience with horses when they join the group. They must serve at least two years in another section of the RCMP before they apply for the musical ride. If they are accepted, they stay with the ride for three years. According to one report, if they aren’t accepted they can never apply again. Most of the riders return to a regular job in the force after three years, though a few remain as instructors.
As the article from the RCMP referenced below states, some riders say that instead of losing skills needed for police work during the years with the horses, they actually improve them. The ride teaches them time management, team work, and communication skills for interaction with other officers and the public.
The officers find that people are often more ready to talk to them when the riders are with their horses. The discussion is often about the horses or the musical ride but sometimes involves people’s concerns about problems in different parts of the country.
The Performance at the PNE
The performance at the PNE takes place during the annual fair held in the last two weeks of August. This popular event started as an agricultural fair but is now far more than this. Entertainment, food, and amusement park rides are highlights of a visit to the fair for many people. The musical ride is free to attend once admission to the fairgrounds has been purchased.
The ride takes place in a building called the Agrodome, which is attached to a barn where stalls are set up for the horses. The animals are well cared for during the tour and almost certainly when they are back in their training facility as well.
After the performance, the riders and the horses distribute themselves around the perimeter of the arena in the Agrodome so that people can meet them and stroke the horses. We used to be able to walk by the stalls in the barn to see the horses after a performance was finished. We had to watch the after-show routine from behind a low barrier during the group’s last ride in Vancouver.
The video below shows some of the musical ride as well as interviews with riders. The video was recorded at the Fort Walsh National Historic Park in Saskatchewan. The fort once belonged to the North-West Mounted Police.
The Horses in the Barn
The RCMP horses are friendly and seem to enjoy meeting the public and being stroked. It’s always nice to meet them and to hear what the riders have to say about them. It’s interesting to watch the care that the horses receive.
At one point in a performance that I saw a few years ago, a rider was having to exert himself to make his horse behave properly. The horse did what he or she was told, but it was obvious that he needed some persuasion to do this. This was unusual based on the other performances that I’ve seen. The animals usually appear to cooperate fully with their riders and behave perfectly.
When I went into the barn after the performance, I noticed that the horse had been tied at the back of his stall with his head facing away from people so that he couldn’t be petted by the public. I assume that the reason for the behaviour problem was investigated before this was done. The treatment may have been a meaningful consequence for the horse.
Unfortunately, the schedule on the RCMP’s website shows that the ride won’t come to British Columbia in 2019, 2020, or 2021. I hope it returns eventually. The event is well worth seeing.