This week marks the start of autumn in Canada -…
Step aside Black Beauty.
In Canada, there’s another game in town. It’s the beautiful black horses of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Musical Ride.
While other kids may have dreamed of riding Black Beauty, I’ve always wanted to ride an RCMP horse. It’s still a bucket list item, actually.
With the uniformed riders and their stunning black horses moving in perfect synchronization to music, it’s a spectacle unlike any other. I’ve been in awe of it, ever since the first time I saw it many years ago at the Calgary Stampede.
But there’s a catch.
You have to be a police officer to do it. Not a likely career path for me.
There are a number of reasons why I’m not giving up.
It’s a Canadian Icon:
It doesn’t get any more Canadian than a Mountie on a horse.
The tradition started in the 1870s when the Canadian government set up a police force to keep the peace in the newly acquired northwest. Early members started the Musical Ride as a way to have some fun, and show off their riding skills. Many of them were British and performed a series of figures based on their cavalry drills.
The “Dome” is one of the most famous formations of the Musical Ride performance, and was once featured on the Canadian 50 dollar bill.
Today, the RCMP is a national police force. The Musical Ride is performed by 32 riders (both men and women) and horses. It tours the country (and sometimes beyond) throughout the summer months and early fall. You can check the schedule here.
The gorgeous horses are at the heart of the Musical Ride.
In the late 1930s, a Commanding Officer with a good fashion sense decreed that all of the horses be black because it looks good with the officers’ red tunics. After that, the RCMP started its own breeding program to supply the Musical Ride with enough black horses.
Today, the breeding farm is not far from Canada’s capital, Ottawa. The horses are bred primarily for colour, temperament and conformation. In the past, they were mostly thoroughbreds, but in 1989, black Hanoverian mares and stallions were bought to improve the bloodlines. The horses need to be very calm to work in front of large crowds, but also athletic and with good stamina to do the Musical Ride. And they’re big, typically close to 17 hands high. To give you an idea, the average quarter horse is about 15 hands.
It would be the tallest horse I’ve ever ridden.
It’s Equine Poetry:
I’m not the only one who wants to ride an RCMP horse. Every year, after serving at least two years in active police work, some 800 RCMP officers apply to join the Musical Ride. Only 45 are chosen to take a 5-week basic equitation course, during which they’re evaluated on their aptitude for the job. Twelve to fifteen are selected each year. They’ll undergo an intensive six-months of training, and, if everything works out, stay with the Musical Ride for 3 years.
It’s a unique combination of hard work, personality and skill. The officers are responsible for keeping their horses, and their stalls clean – – the cleanest I’ve ever seen. You can visit the stables, known as the Ride Centre, in Ottawa year-round. You get the chance to talk to the riders (and meet the horses) at the stables when they’re in Ottawa, or after every performance. Based on the officers I’ve met, it’s clear that enthusiasm and genuine interest in dealing with people is one of the requirements.
It takes some serious horsemanship to perform the Musical Ride so flawlessly. I’ve ridden some very basic drills and can tell you that it’s not easy. Most horses don’t like to be that close, except maybe with their besties. It’s up to the riders to keep them in tight formation, without bumping into each other.
Done right, it’s poetry in motion. One of the most popular parts of the ride is the ‘charge’ at the end, when the riders lower their lances and take off at full gallop.
The Queen and Rick Mercer got to do it:
I have to admit that I’m envious that Queen Elizabeth and Canadian comedian Rick Mercer got the chance to ride RCMP horses. The Queen is a big fan of the Musical Ride, which recently performed in London for her 90th birthday. Over the years, the RCMP has given 5 horses to her, and she rode her favourite, Burmese, at the annual Trooping of the Colour, for 18 years. Rick Mercer climbed aboard when he taped a segment for his TV show.
Now, I know that the Queen has more riding experience than I do, but at age 90, she has more experience at everything. And Rick Mercer has me beat in the business of being funny.
But I’d be thrilled with just a trot around the arena.
Riding off into the sunset? Well, that would be a bonus.
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