When my friend invited me to go with her family to see the RCMP Musical Ride I anticipated a wonderful show, but I had no idea of the impression it would leave. What a treat I was in for!
For those of you who are not Canadians, I should explain that RCMP stands for Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the early days of Canada’s police force, they used horses and were mounted police, thus often called Mounties. They have an excellent reputation. You may have heard the expression, “The Mounties get their man.”
Of course, as cars became more practical in most cases, the use of horses for police work took on a smaller role, but the image of the Mountie in his traditional red serge uniform, sitting tall on his horse is an emblem that brings out feelings of pride in all Canadians.
While in some cultures, the police are feared because of their corruption and harsh administration of a skewed sense of justice, in Canada our feelings towards the RCMP are quite different. We are proud of our Mounties and every child is taught that the policeman is their friend.
Canada’s RCMP force works hard to maintain this image. One of the most effective ways they do this is with the tour of the RCMP Musical Ride. From May to October they visit communities all over Canada and in some cases international communities, putting on forty to fifty shows each year.
Thirty-two members of the RCMP display their equestrian skills and discipline as they put on a fabulous show of cavalry drills and formations. Besides learning excellent horsemanship, the members have a commitment to be ambassadors of goodwill as they interact with the public who come to see them perform.
The riders, mounted on horses that are well matched with their glossy, dark, chestnut brown coats, parade onto the riding arena. They line up to salute the guests and the crowd. The national anthem, “Oh Canada,” is sung with great pride, and then a unique and dramatic show begins.
With selected Canadian tunes playing in the background, the emcee announces the design of the exercise that the riders will perform. Some of the presentations show the horses going two, three, or even up to six abreast, to travel around in a pre-determined formation such as a wheel with the horses and riders representing the spokes. It may sound easy, but each of these cavalry drills must be performed with the utmost of control and co-ordination. Timing is everything. While some horses trot, others must canter to keep up, while those in the center may be only marking time while turning on the spot.
Sometimes the exercise involves riders interlacing as they pass by each other in a criss-cross motion. Control and good horsemanship are maintained throughout the show. The horses, too, show great discipline. If a horse is startled or even, as happened once, throws its rider, the show goes on. The horses know the drill and all continue their routine.
The RCMP members carry lances that are settled into a pocket on the saddle. In one of the formations called the “Dome,” the riders face the center of a circle and point their drawn lances towards the center.
In case the crowd is not impressed enough, for the grand finale, the emcee announces that the riders will charge from one end of the field to the other. Without this advance warning the spectators would be terrified at the sight of thirty-two horses and riders galloping towards them, lances pointing straight ahead. Of course they always stop just in time, leaving the spectators inhaling great clouds of dust while their hearts pound as loudly as the horses’ hooves.
Following the show, the riders circle the ring and space themselves evenly before coming to a stop, each facing one section of the spectators. The people are invited to ask questions and see the horses and riders up close. Everyone is thrilled to be so close to these amazing teams.
Yes, team is the word for the horse and rider. They train together and perform the Musical Ride tour for three years before the members must return to regular RCMP duties. This allows others to have a turn to learn good horsemanship and continue the training throughout the force.
The Musical Ride has been a tradition since 1876. In the days and weeks after I saw the show for the first time, it was never far from my mind. It was one of the most beautiful performances of horsemanship I had ever seen. I will never forget the lump in my throat when I tried to sing along with our national anthem. I felt very proud to be a Canadian.
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