Throughout the world, the image of the red-coated Mountie in a broad-brimmed Stetson hat is instinctively associated with Canada.
Today that image is projected around the world with the famous RCMP Musical Ride which canters into the Williams Lake Stampede Grounds on Thursday, July 18.
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 Musical Ride.
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 in1887.
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 of the riders.
Today, in keeping with tradition, the Musical Ride is performed by a full troupe of 32 riders and horses, plus the member in charge.
The Musical Ride consists of the execution of a variety of intricate figures and cavalry drill choreographed to music.
Demanding utmost control, timing and co-ordination, these movements are formed by individual horses and riders, in twos, fours and eights 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 horses must not only appear in the Musical Ride, but on Parliament Hill, in parades, special events and have the ability to travel and adapt to different environments, not to mention, hours of petting and photo-taking that the horses must patiently endure.
One of the most recognizable Musical Ride formations is the “Dome,” once featured on the back of the Canadian $50 bill.
The highlight of the Musical Ride is, without a doubt, the CHARGE when lances, with their red and white pennons, are lowered and the riders and their mounts launch into the gallop.
The conclusion of the performance is the March Past performed to the strains of the RCMP’s Regimental March where the Musical Ride traditionally salutes the guest of honour.
The RCMP Musical Ride tours throughout Canada, the United States and other international venues, performing at approximately 40 to 50 locations a year between the months of May and October.
Thirty-six riders, 36 horses, a farrier, a technical production manager and three non-commissioned officers travel with the Musical Ride on tour.
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.
Today an RCMP horse must be black, elegant, athletic with a good nature and enough heart and stamina to carry it through approximately 100 performances of the Musical Ride.
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 kilometres west of Ottawa.
The RCMP Breeding Farm in Pakenham is built on 140 hectares of lush Ottawa Valley land where the Remounts 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.
For more information, visit the RCMP website at www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca
The Musical Ride Thursday, July 18 starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Stampede Grounds in Williams Lake. There will also be other entertainment leading up to the performance.
Advance tickets are available at Cariboo GM, Margetts Meats, J & E Gifts, Taylor Made Cakes and Sweets and the Williams Lake RCMP Detachment office.
The tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Tickets will also be available at the gate prior to the start of the event.