The Maple Leaf. Breathtaking Wilderness. A "Mountie". All are familiar international identifiers of our "True North Strong and Free". The image of the red-coated Mountie in broad-brimmed Stetson hat is instinctively associated with Canada around the world. But there is more to the Mounties than just a romantic image. The stage was set in 1873 for a role that would intimately connect the Mounted Police and its members with the development of Canada as a great nation. From the beginning of its long history, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have served Canada and its people by establishing law and order in the frontier reaches of this vast nation. As the country grew in population and diversity, and its communities became more established, the Mounted Police adapted, ensuring the peace and security for its citizens.
Representing a colourful tradition and ceremony through the horse and the scarlet uniform, the RCMP created a spectacle known around the world as the Musical Ride. The Musical Ride provides Canadians, from coast to coast, with the opportunity to experience part of our heritage and national identity.
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 that 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 the 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 in 1887. The Musical Ride, consisting of twenty men, was put on public display for the first time in 1901. Over the years the popularity of the Ride has grown and it has become a familiar sight throughout most of the world.
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 (33%) of the riders.
Today, in keeping with tradition, the Musical Ride is performed by a full troop of thirty-two 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 coordination, these movements are formed by individual horses and riders, in two's, four's and eight's 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 more familiar Musical Ride formations is the "Dome," once featured on the back of the Canadian fifty-dollar 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, as well as international venues, performing at approximately forty to fifty locations a year between the months of May and October. Thirty-six riders, thirty-six horses, a farrier, a technical production manager and three NCOs travel with the Musical Ride.