History of the RCMP Musical Ride
A world-famous show, the Musical Ride has played an important role in the RCMP since 1873.
Early history of Mounties on horseback
From its inception in 1873, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) relied on skilled riders to carry out police duties across the Prairies. Patrolling the vast and sparsely inhabited area, NWMP members were frequently the only government officials new settlers would encounter and were essential to preventing prairie fires.
To break the monotony of endless riding drills, members of the Force commonly competed amongst themselves and performed tricks on horseback. In 1876, some of these tricks and exercises were performed at Fort Macleod, Alta. This is believed to be the first public performance of what would eventually evolve into the Musical Ride.
Riding school – "Depot" Division, Regina
In 1886, the NWMP's first riding school was established in Regina. During the winter of 1887, there were five public performances at the Regina barracks. The Ride was performed only in the winter because many of the policemen resided in Regina until they could resume their summer patrols. Later that year, the Riding School at Depot burned down, and by the time it was rebuilt, key personnel needed to organize the Ride had been transferred or had left the Force. There is no record of another Musical Ride until 1901.
A public relations entity
In 1901, the Ride performed in Brandon, Manitoba and Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan. After this time, Rides were performed occasionally at agricultural exhibitions, fairs and horse shows. On July 28, 1908, a Musical Ride was performed in Quebec City as part of that municipality's 300th anniversary celebrations. The Prince of Wales attended, becoming the first member of the Royal Family to witness the Ride. This was also the first time a Musical Ride was performed outside of Western Canada. Musical Rides continued to be performed for the public until the start of the First World War in 1914.
Equitation training in Ottawa
Musical Rides were cancelled in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War and were not held again until 1920. In that year, the now-Royal NWMP absorbed the Dominion Police, the federal police force for Eastern Canada, and became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP headquarters were then moved to Ottawa, Ontario, and "N" Division was established in nearby Rockcliffe.
"N" Division immediately organized a Musical Ride and performed at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa on May 24, 1920 and in Brockville on July 1, 1920. There were performances almost every year from both "N" Division and Regina. In the 1930s, a third Ride was organized in Vancouver, B.C., (known as "E" Division), with five performances in Vancouver.
The Ride began performing in the United States and overseas: in 1930, the Ride made its first trip to England to perform at the Wembley Exhibition in London; in 1934, the Ride performed for the first time in the United States, with "N" Division in New York City and "E" Division in Portland, Oregon.
By this time, the Ride had become an established attraction, and in 1939, new stables were built in Ottawa: a one-story brick-veneer structure designed by local architect W.C. Sylvester. The horses had previously been lodged at Lansdowne Park and then in a wooden building in Rockcliffe.
In 1939, the Ride was a great success at the World Fair in New York. However, any plans for the future were shelved when the Second World War broke out; there would be no further performances until 1948.
Post-war Musical Ride
1948: Musical Rides were once again organized, but mostly from N Division. The show was performed at a number of locations in Canada and the United States. However, the Rides were not held every year; for instance, there were none in 1950-1951, 1954-1955 and 1960.
1953: The Musical Ride returned to England for the first time since 1930 to perform at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
1957: The Ride performed in Scotland as part of the Edinburgh Tattoo.
1961: The RCMP obtained ministerial authority to establish a permanent Musical Ride in Ottawa to perform annually in Canada and abroad.
1962: The final Ride performed by the Musical Ride troop based in Regina. Since then, the Ride has been based exclusively in Ottawa.
1964: The Ride performed for the first time in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
1966: Equestrian training stops being mandatory for all recruits. Since then, only members assigned to the Musical Ride receive this training.
1967: As part of the Force's contribution to Canada's Centennial Year, the Ride performed in nine provinces, (except British Columbia).
1968: The Ride travelled by air for the first time when it performed in Bermuda.
1969: On a tour of the United Kingdom, the Ride performed in Wales for the first time; also the Ride escorted the Queen from Windsor Castle to the showgrounds; this was the first time any troop other than the Household Cavalry had been permitted this escort.
1970: The Musical Ride was held for the first time in Asia at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan.
1974: The Ride made successful tours of continental Europe.
1977: The Ride toured in Ireland and United Kingdom to participate in the Queen's Silver Jubilee celebrations.
1988: The Ride made successful tours of continental Europe.
1989: The Equitation Section began holding free performances at its stables in Ottawa. Known as the RCMP Sunset Ceremonies, the performances take place every year in June.
The modern Musical Ride
Today, the RCMP Musical Ride consists of 32 riders plus the member in charge. It executes a variety of cavalry drills choreographed to music. The Ride tours throughout Canada and internationally between May and October, performing at approximately 40 venues each year. The present stables in Ottawa were built in 1993; the original stables built in 1939 now house the Visitor's Centre.
Gifts to the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II takes a keen interest in horses and is highly knowledgeable about them. As Honorary Commissioner of the RCMP, she has been presented with five horses as gifts from the Force:
In the autumn of 1968, S/Sgt. Ralph Cave, the RCMP's riding master in Ottawa, suggested the RCMP present one of its horses as a gift to Queen Elizabeth II. On April 28, 1969, the RCMP presented her with the gift of Burmese, a Musical Ride service horse.
Burmese became one of Her Majesty's favourite horses. She rode Burmese at the annual Trooping of the Colour, an impressive display of military pageantry to mark her birthday, for 18 years. Burmese passed away in 1990. The Queen has not ridden a horse at that event since 1987.
Queen Elizabeth II was presented with another police service horse during the RCMP's centennial celebrations in 1973. This time, the Queen chose Jerry, a three-year-old black gelding, out of a group of five horses during her visit to the RCMP stables in Ottawa on August 2, 1973.
Queen Elizabeth II wanted this horse to have the same training Burmese had received as a part of the RCMP; he remained in Canada until 1977 to complete his training as a saddle horse and for use in the RCMP Musical Ride.
Jerry's name was changed to Centenial (with one "n") when the horse was presented to Her Majesty at Windsor Castle on May 15, 1977. Centenial was then turned over to the Mounted Division of the London Metropolitan Police for crowd-orientation training.
On October 27, 1998 the RCMP presented Queen Elizabeth II with the gift of James, an RCMP service horse, as a part of the Force's 125th anniversary celebrations.
The RCMP presented Queen Elizabeth II with the gift of George, an RCMP service horse, during the Royal Windsor Horse Show at Windsor Castle on May 16, 2009. This was to mark the 40th anniversary of the RCMP presenting Burmese to the Queen. During the presentation, Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen, whose father had been a member of the RCMP, narrated a two-minute video on the RCMP.
Sir John (2016)
In honour of Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday, Commissioner Bob Paulson presented her with Sir John, an eight-year-old gelding on May 12. As part of the birthday festivities, the Music Ride also performed nightly at the Royal Windsor Horse Show at Windsor Castle from May 12 to 16.
A gift from the Queen
Golden Jubilee (2002)
Queen Elizabeth II presented the RCMP with the gift of Golden Jubilee, a horse from her own personal collection, at a ceremony at the RCMP stables in Ottawa on October 14, 2002. This gift was given to the RCMP in recognition of the Queen's 50th year as reigning monarch.
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