RCMP Musical Ride: History comes to town with a gallop

RCMP Const. Leslie Goode is in the middle of an interview when Danica, the black Hanoverian mare she rides in the RCMP Musical Ride, nuzzles into her neck. 

“She’s a character, she’s a sweetheart,” Goode said.

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“I just got paired with her in April, so we’re still working on our bond.”

Goode and Danica are among 36 pairs of Mounties and their steeds travelling across the country to perform in the RCMP Musical Ride.

They’ll be in Topaz Park today and at Royal Roads on Sunday. On Friday, they were having a rest day at Saanich’s Hunt Valley Farms, where farm manager Björn Björnson said boarders agreed to share their paddocks.

Typically, the Musical Ride travels to communities within two provinces each year, but as part of the Canada 150 celebrations, they’ve been making their way through 10 provinces since mid-May.

“This is the last leg,” Goode said. After Victoria, the ride goes to Kamloops, Banff and Calgary, winding up on Sept. 10.

The riders travelling the country are part of a long tradition that has primarily become a tool of community outreach for the national police force. Each ride raises funds for the community that hosts it. And each year, a different routine is developed, but the nuts and bolts are the same: 32 Mounties in red serge, breeches and wide-brimmed hats do calvary drills set to music atop 32 horses.

The horses are bred to look just as uniform, at 16- to 17-hands high, weighing between 1,150 and 1,400 pounds and, until recently, three-quarters to seven-eighths thoroughbred.

“We all wear the same uniform, so we want the horses to look the same, too,” Goode said.

The first Musical Ride was held at the Regina barracks in 1887 and regular public performances began in 1904, when a troop travelled to regional fairs in Winnipeg, Brandon, Qu’Appelle and Regina.

Today, the ride is based just outside Ottawa and is performed by a troop of 32 riders and horses. Members are primarily police officers who have at least two years of active police-work experience, although they don’t need riding experience.

Officers have to try out for the position after a five-week course, then pass a six-month training period and test before joining the troop.

“Probably 85, 90 per cent of people on the ride didn’t have riding experience [to start]. So you can only think the learning curve was pretty steep for a lot of us,” said Goode, who is from Peterborough, Ont.

While most stints on the ride run 2.5 years, Goode extended hers for an extra year. When she’s done, she will return to general assignment duties in Nova Scotia.

Goode said she joined because she loves animals.

“But it’s the history and tradition of the RCMP and how awesome it is to be part of the RCMP and go around and help communities raise money for different things,” she said.

A few neighbours popped by to meet the horses Friday, ahead of the big shows on the weekend.

Ted Simmons said he has seen two Musical Rides before and his favourite part is, “the magnificence and the feeling you get when you see them in form.”

It’s different from the casual trail riding he likes to do around Elk and Beaver lakes.

Sandra Steele said she was looking forward to seeing the ride — the last one she saw was in Vancouver decades ago, as a teen.

“I remember that it was very well choreographed and very beautiful and very Canadian.”

Stacey Haines said her seven-month-old son, Everett, is a big fan of horses.

“He usually kicks and smiles when he sees them move,” Haines said.

The RCMP Musical Ride is hosted by the Victoria Military Music Festival Society. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.

asmart@timescolonist.com

 

• The RCMP Musical Ride runs from 1:30 to 3 p.m. today at Topaz Park in Victoria and at the same time Sunday on the lower lawns of Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University in Colwood.

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