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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A world-famous show, the Musical Ride has played an important role in the RCMP since 1873. The Ride performed in Fredericton in July 2017 as part of a Canada 150 Tour.
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