Established in 1873, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) relied on adept horse riders to conduct policing duties across the vast and thinly populated Prairie region. NWMP officers often represented the only government presence for new settlers and played a crucial role in preventing prairie fires.
To alleviate the tedium of continuous riding drills, Force members often competed and showcased horseback tricks among themselves. In 1876, a public performance of such tricks and exercises took place at Fort Macleod, Alta, which is considered the first public showing of what would later become the RCMP Musical Ride.
In 1886, the NWMP set up its first riding school in Regina. During the winter of 1887, five public performances occurred at the Regina barracks. The Ride was conducted exclusively in the winter since many officers stayed in Regina until they could recommence their summer patrols. However, the Riding School at Depot was destroyed by fire later that year, and with key personnel either transferred or no longer in the Force, there is no record of another Musical Ride until 1901.
In 1901, the Ride was performed in Brandon, Manitoba, and Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. Subsequently, Rides took place sporadically at agricultural exhibitions, fairs, and horse shows. On July 28, 1908, a Musical Ride in Quebec City marked the city’s 300th anniversary celebrations and was attended by the Prince of Wales, the first Royal Family member to witness the Ride. This event also represented the first Musical Ride performed outside Western Canada. Public performances of the Musical Ride continued until the First World War began in 1914.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 led to the cancellation of Musical Rides, which did not resume until 1920. In that year, the now-Royal NWMP merged with the Dominion Police, Eastern Canada’s federal police force, becoming the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP headquarters subsequently relocated to Ottawa, Ontario, with “N” Division established in nearby Rockcliffe.
“N” Division promptly organized a Musical Ride, performing at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa on May 24, 1920, and in Brockville on July 1, 1920. Almost every year, performances were held by both “N” Division and Regina. During the 1930s, a third Ride, known as “E” Division, was organized in Vancouver, B.C., staging five performances in the city.
The Ride expanded its reach, performing in the United States and abroad: in 1930, it debuted in England at the Wembley Exhibition in London; in 1934, “N” Division performed in New York City and “E” Division in Portland, Oregon, marking the Ride’s first appearances in the United States.
By then, the Ride had become a well-known attraction. In 1939, new stables were constructed in Ottawa—a single-story brick-veneer building designed by local architect W.C. Sylvester. Previously, the horses were housed at Lansdowne Park and later in a wooden building in Rockcliffe.
The Ride enjoyed tremendous success at the 1939 World Fair in New York. However, with the outbreak of the Second World War, plans were put on hold, and performances did not resume until 1948.
Today, the RCMP Musical Ride features 32 riders, including the member in charge, and performs an array of cavalry drills choreographed to music. The Ride tours Canada and other countries from May to October, performing at approximately 40 venues annually.
Queen Elizabeth II, an avid horse enthusiast and Honorary Commissioner of the RCMP, has received five horses as gifts from the Force. On October 14, 2002, during a ceremony at the RCMP stables in Ottawa, she reciprocated by presenting the RCMP with Golden Jubilee, a horse from her personal collection, in honour of her 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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