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Ask the Rider

Do you have a question about the RCMP Musical Ride? Wondering who to ask? Get your questions answered directly from the horse's mouth...or should we say directly from the RCMP.

Historical Background

  1. What is the origin of the Musical Ride?
  2. Where were the early members of the March West from?
  3. When did the RCMP stop using horses for regular duties?
  4. When was the first Musical Ride performed?
  5. Where do the Musical Ride drills come from?
  6. When did the Musical Ride become a permanent part of the RCMP?

Horses

  1. Why are all the Musical Ride horses black?
  2. What breed are the horses?
  3. Do you use artificial insemination?
  4. Why do you breed your horses instead of buying them?
  5. How many horses does the RCMP have altogether?
  6. Do you sell any of your horses?
  7. Do your horses go through some special kind of training?
  8. What is the average age of your horses on the Ride?
  9. How old can horses live?
  10. How do you name your horses?
  11. How tall are the horses?
  12. How much do the horses weigh?
  13. How long do you keep your horses?
  14. Do horses lay down to sleep?
  15. How often do you feed your horses?
  16. Are your horses branded?
  17. How do you recognize your horses?
  18. Do your horses bite or kick people?
  19. Why do your horses wear shoes?
  20. How often do they need new shoes?
  21. What happens to horses in the wild since they have no shoes?
  22. What kind of horse shoes does the RCMP use?
  23. When did the RCMP first start breeding their own horses?
  24. Why was your farm moved to Pakenham, Ontario?

Riding Equipment

  1. Why do you use a double bridle?
  2. Where do you get your leather equipment today?
  3. What kind of saddles do you use?
  4. Why buy a saddle made in Germany?
  5. What is the white rope around the horse's neck?
  6. What is the history behind the lance?
  7. How heavy is the lance?
  8. Is there any significance to the pennon (triangular flag) being red and white?
  9. Does the saddle blanket have any significance?
  10. Why is the Maple Leaf on the horse's rump?

Riders

  1. Are all the members of the Musical Ride "real" police men and women?
  2. How are the riders selected for the Musical Ride?
  3. How much practice is required to train the Musical Ride?

Historical Backround

1. What is the origin of the Musical Ride?

The Musical Ride originated from the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) as they made the Great March West across Canada in 1874. Although the original NWMP were scattered in small groups over tens of thousands of miles of unsettled prairies, they routinely practiced both mounted and foot drills.

In this time, Sergeant Major Robert Belcher and other members who directed the mounted training had been members of the British Cavalry regiments and had experience in performing drill displays. Only after the men of the NWMP had formed their own band, did the riding displays take the form of the Musical Ride as we know it today. The performance of the drill movements accompanied by music helped the NWMP to entertain themselves during the evening or while off duty.

2. Where were the early members of the March West from?

The first officers were appointed to the March West in September 1873 by Order of Council. More than half of the recruits had military experience--British and/or Canadian, usually in the militia and a few from the Canadian artillery in Kingston and Quebec such as Samuel B. Steele. Most recruits came from Ontario and Quebec with about a dozen from the Maritime provinces. Only two of the recruits had been police officers, 46 were clerks and 39 were tradesmen. Members were required to be able to read and write either in English or French. Some of the first recruits were bilingual and some only spoke French.

3. When did the RCMP stop using horses for regular duties?

The horses were discontinued in the Police field in the late 1930's. The last patrol was around 1936.

4. When was the first Musical Ride performed?

The first recorded display of the NWMP riding performance, under the direction of Sergeant Major Belcher - and with no public in attendance - took place at Fort Macleod, Alberta in 1876. Training for and performing the Musical Ride provided relief for the officers from the daily drill periods and routine duties.

The first time the NWMP performance was named the Musical Ride was at the Regina barracks in 1887. A total of five performances were given that year. There were no public displays for many years after this because regular police duties and the creation of new posts took precedence.

The NWMP riding performance became a form of public entertainment in 1904. The troop trained under the direction of Inspector Frank Church and performed in Winnipeg, Brandon, Qu'appelle and Regina. In the first part of the 20th century, the Ride would occasionally perform publicly.

5. Where do the Musical Ride drills come from?

Some of the Musical Ride movements are based on cavalry drills. These drills began to take shape during the eighteenth century when Frederick The Great of Prussia*(1712-1786) revolutionized cavalry tactics and trained his cavalry to a standard which became the envy and ideal of other European nations. The British Cavalry eventually incorporated these standards into its drills.

The basis of the Ride's movements stem from the ability to move a mounted cavalry regiment with some form of organization—e.g. single file, half sections and sections at all three paces. Since 1887, Musical Ride Instructors have developed and elaborated on these basic movements. The Ride varies from year to year as every new Instructor slightly alters the Ride movements and formations.

*Prussia: former kingdom and state of Germany, extended along the coast of the Baltic and North sea, Belgium, Netherlands and France on the west, Russia on the east, Switzerland on the south.

6. When did the Musical Ride become a permanent part of the RCMP?

The Musical Ride became a permanent entity of the RCMP in 1961. At this time, the Ride became an annual performance. Up to 1961 it had been impossible to plan performances far in advance, as there had always been doubts about whether or not the Ride would continue.

Prior to 1961 and beginning in 1920, there were two Rides that performed in various parts of Canada and the US. One Ride was based in Rockcliffe, Ontario and the other in Regina, Saskatchewan, occasionally with other Rides trained for local performances.

Training of the Ride would alternate annually between the two training centres located in Regina and Ottawa. Riding was part of basic training of recruits until 1966.

Horses

1. Why are all the Musical Ride horses black?

In 1937, Assistant Commissioner S. T. Wood headed the RCMP contingent at the coronation of King George VI. Assistant Commissioner Wood was impressed with how the red tunics were more significantly emphasized on the Riders in the Household Cavalry who were on black horses. When Wood became Commissioner in 1938, he ordered the RCMP to purchase only black horses, however, it soon became apparent that the RCMP would need to establish their own breeding program

2. What breed are the horses?

The horses are predominantly thoroughbreds, although In March 1989, black Hanoverian broodmares and stallions were purchased to further supplement and improve our stock's bloodlines in relation to colour, substance and conformation. Hanoverians also have two predominant black lines in their breed, which benefits the bone structure and size. They are quiet by nature, almost lethargic, so crossing them with Thoroughbreds produces a well tempered horse with the desired conformation.

We currently have one stallion that is a registered and licensed Hanoverian. To be a licensed Hanoverian, the horse has to undergo a rigorous testing period (100 days).

3. Do you use artificial insemination?

Yes, artificial insemination is common nowadays. We use it about 90% of the time.

4. Why do you breed your horses instead of buying them?

The RCMP breeds for colour, size, substance, and temperament. There is not a supply of black horses like the RCMP requires anywhere in the world.

5. How many horses does the RCMP have altogether?

There are approximately 27 broodmares at the farm, along with 40 to 50 young horses from babies to three year olds. At the stables in Ottawa, there are approximately 96 horses which include class horses, Musical Ride horses and the young horses in training.

6. Do you sell any of your horses?

In June 1995 the first auction sale was held to sell off surplus horses from our breeding program. These sales are being hosted by the Mounted Police Foundation and are planned for every two years from that date. The horses chosen for the sale are mostly young horses, yearlings and two to three year olds.

Each year the Musical Ride requires approximately 10 young horses to come in to training. Due to the success of our breeding program, the RCMP often has horses in excess of the 10 required. The horses for the sale are selected because they do not meet the criteria for a Musical Ride horse. Any further information regarding the sale can be found on the Mounted Police Foundation's Horse Auction page.

7. Do your horses go through some special kind of training?

The training program is not unique to the RCMP. It is based on classic riding and similar to the training programs used by many riding schools around the world. Basic training for our purpose takes approximately, 2 1/2 years. We try to expose the horses to as many new things as possible because they perform in parades, Royal escorts, large crowds, in traffic and they must be able to work extremely close together to perform the intricate movements of the Musical Ride.

8. What is the average age of your horses on the Ride?

The average age varies from year to year. The new horses join the Musical Ride when they are six years old and some have been on the Musical Ride past the age of 20.

9. How old can horses live?

The average age for a horse is mid 20's. Bobby and Lucky are horses that were active in the Ride until their late twenties. Both were used as the Officer's horse in their later years. It is also noted in a history book that an old grey horse that one of our Commissioners kept at Fort Walsh was 34 years old.

10. How do you name your horses?

The names of the foals born in the same year begin with the same letter of the alphabet. The following year the next letter in the alphabet is used. Certain letters such as Q,X,U,Y,Z are not used as it would be to difficult to have proper names with those letters. Every year, the RCMP invites children to participate in a "Name the Foal contest" to help choose names for that years young horses. Information on this contest can be found on the RCMP Web site.

11. How tall are the horses?

They are between 16 and 17.2 hands. One hand is 4 inches.

12. How much do the horses weigh?

They weigh between 1150 pounds (523kg) and 1600 pounds (725 kg).

13. How long do you keep your horses?

As long as they are healthy.

14. Do horses lay down to sleep?

Yes, most horses will lay down. They can, however, go into a light sleep while standing.

15. How often do you feed your horses?

They are fed hay and oats four times daily. The amount varies depending on the amount of exercise or work the horse does.

16. Are your horses branded?

No, however, before 1950 the RCMP identified their horses by the branded fused "MP" on the left shoulder which is the registered brand of the RCMP since 1887. Horses are no longer branded but for years were tattooed on the inside of the upper lip with a regimental number. Today, a small microchip is implanted in the horses' neck. A scanner is used to retrieve a serial number which identifies the animal.

17. How do you recognize your horses?

We can recognize most horses by their markings (blaze, socks, etc.) and even by their behavior.

18. Do your horses bite or kick people?

Our horses are trained so that they do not acquire these habits, however we must not forget that they are animals and can be unpredictable. When frightened or startled biting or kicking may be their instinctive reaction.

19. Why do your horses wear shoes?

To protect their feet from injury on many different types of footing. Also it provides a safe grip on a variety of surfaces.

20. How often do they need new shoes?

Every six to eight weeks.

21. What happens to horses in the wild since they have no shoes?

Their hooves are harder than domesticated horses, therefore less susceptible to injuries. They wear off their hooves running on the sand and rocks, consequently they have no need to have their hooves trimmed every six to eight weeks.

22. What kind of horse shoes does the RCMP use?

They are steel with corks and clips. Some are made by the farrier, who shoes the horses, but most are purchased and are drop forged (stamped out).

23. When did the RCMP first start breeding their own horses?

About 1939, after Commissioner Wood's decision to use only black horses. The first breeding farm was established on a 720 acre ranch at Fort Walsh in Saskatchewan (the same site as the Mounted Police Fort built in 1875). The Farm provided horses for mounted training in Regina and Ottawa.

24. Why was your farm moved to Pakenham, Ontario?

In 1966, the Canadian Government decided that the RCMP must economize by discontinuing recruit equitation training, which until that time was mandatory for all recruits. The Musical Ride, however, was kept as part of the RCMP's public relations program with its base in Ontario. Some of the horses were sold and the rest were moved to the Rockcliffe (Ottawa) stables which had been built in 1939 for the training of one of the two Musical Rides that the RCMP had at the time.

The breeding farm (or ranch as it was called then) was moved to a 345 acre farm that the RCMP had purchased in the Ottawa Valley at Pakenham, about 80 kms (50 miles) west of Ottawa. The Farm was officially opened on December 1st 1968.

Riding Equipment

1. Why do you use a double bridle?

Like the red serge, the double bridle is part of our ceremonial dress. This type of bridle with two bits also affords the rider more control when riding with one hand. From 1873 to 1886, there had been many changes in the types of bridles used by the RCMP. It was after a recommendation by the Commissioner of the time and also strongly suggested by the saddler that the RCMP would be allowed to make their own small leather articles (bridles, halters, belts, holsters).

Today, a single bridle is used for training and exercise purposes, while on ceremonial occasions, the attractive Weymouth double bridle is used. The bridle combines a curb bit and a snaffle bit or Bradoon bit, each with its own set of reins.

2. Where do you get your leather equipment today?

The RCMP still employs a saddler who keeps the saddlery and leather equipment in good repair, and also, with the exception of the basic saddle, makes all the leather equipment. The saddler is still a vital part of the Musical Ride today. The leather used to make the equipment is of very good quality and all the pieces of equipment made by hand withstand the wear and tear of arduous tours. The saddler also makes this equipment unique by using our crest and emblems of the RCMP.

3. What kind of saddles do you use?

Stubben saddles originating in Germany.

4. Why buy a saddle made in Germany?

For a period of two years, (1968-70) we tried just about every saddle on the market. Every manufacturer wanted to impress the RCMP because of the size of the pending contract. John Stubben came over from Germany and agreed to modify his saddle cut. This produced a more versatile saddle as we couldn't afford both a jumping and dressage saddle. He named the first ones "Kanada Model". They have long skirts/flaps, fit the majority of our horses and help place the rider's leg where it is functional.

5. What is the white rope around the horse's neck?

This is called a head rope. It was originally used by the RCMP for tying horses. The head rope is now part of the ceremonial uniform.

6. What is the history behind the lance?

In preparation for the March West in 1874, advisors to the Canadian Government believed that scarlet coated riders carrying lances would be an impressive force should they encounter any hostility on their March West, and later during prairie patrols. Although never used in a fight, lances have since that time been retained by the RCMP for ceremony, mounted sports and the Musical Ride.

7. How heavy is the lance?

The lance weighs approximately seven to nine pounds (three to four kilograms). It is approximately nine feet (2.74 metres) in length, with a shaft of male bamboo, including a 12½ inch (31.75 cm) chrome-plated steel tip at the point and a 6¾ inch (17.15 cm) chrome-plated steel butt at the other end. It ranges from 1 to 1¼ inches (2.54 to 3.175 cm) in diameter.

8. Is there any significance to the pennon (triangular flag) being red and white?

The different regiments, i.e. the Polish Lancers, British light dragoons, etc., used the lance in battle. They had a pennon below the tip which served to absorb the blood, preventing it from running down the lance and making it slippery. The pennon of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) on its March West was of British regulation pattern in red and white. The lances of the NWMP were never used at war.

Furthermore, on November 21st 1921, with the approval of King George V, a Canadian proclamation assigned red and white as the official colours of Canada. Consequently, on ceremonial occasions, we could hold no more appropriate colours aloft on our lances.

9. Does the saddle blanket have any significance?

ShabrackThis blanket is called a "Shabrack" or "Shabracque", which designates the saddle cloth used by mounted military units. It is derived from the Turkish "çaprak". Some authorities insist that the term "Shabrack" should be used only when unit's battle honours are inscribed on it. There are no battle honours on the RCMP Shabrack, but the term seems to have come into common use in 1920, when the organization became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The NWMP began using the fused "MP" in the rear corners of its saddle cloths soon after 1887, when it registered that symbol as its brand. The fused "MP" was at first used for all ranks and has, like the single wide yellow piping, continued to be used for Non Commissioned Officer's (NCO's) and Constables.

The piping and the insignia on officer's Shabrack have been changed over the years according to the wishes of officers in charge of various mounted unit (Officers of the Coronations Contingent of King George VI, Officers at Queen Elizabeth's Coronation).

In 1982, Commissioner Simmonds standardized the Officer's Shabrack. A dark blue material with double narrow yellow piping, with each rear corner bearing the same crest of the RCMP as the one approved for the regimental blazer.

In 2003, a distinctive shabrack was designed for the Commissioner of the RCMP using the rank badge symbols of a crown, a star and a crossed sword and baton.

10. Why is the Maple Leaf on the horse's rump?

It is used for show, plus it is our unique way of displaying our Canadian symbol. The Maple Leaf is made a few minutes before every show with a stencil and a wet brush.

Riders

1. Are all the members of the Musical Ride "real" police men and women?

All the members of the Musical Ride are full time policemen and women, they have volunteered for this special duty for a period of three years.

2. How are the riders selected for the Musical Ride?

Members of the RCMP that have completed at least two years of active police work can submit their name to be considered for the Musical Ride. Every year approximately 800 officers from across Canada make this application, however only 45 are chosen to come to Ottawa for the five week Basic Equitation Course.

No riding experience is required to apply, however it can be an advantage as the riders are evaluated during the five weeks on their riding ability/aptitude, conduct, relationship with other members, initiative/effort, appearance and attendance and responsibility/reliability.

Each year 12-15 riders are chosen from these 45 to return to Ottawa for the Intermediate Equitation Course. At the end of this six month course they will replace those that have completed their three year rotation on tour and who will be returning to regular duties across Canada.

3. How much practice is required to train the Musical Ride?

Approximately three to four months practice is required, but this will also depend on how many new horses are being introduced into the Musical Ride. In theory, if the horses and the riders are well trained, it should take 16 weeks to produce a show worthy of being called the Musical Ride.

If you still have a question or comment, please visit our Musical Ride Contact Us page.