Because I have already devoted one of my blog entries to
America’s most recognizable equines, the Budweiser
Clydesdales, I thought it only fair that I turn my
attention to Canada’s favorite ceremonial horses, the
striking black mounts of the RCMP’s Musical Ride.
While the U.S. has its Texas Rangers, best-known among
them TV’s masked Lone Ranger on his spirited white
stallion Silver, Canada is immediately associated with the
image of the scarlet-coated, Stetson-hatted Mounties.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were established in 1874
to bring law and order to Canada’s Northwest Territories,
which are now also the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
They have, over the past one hundred and thirty-three
years, evolved into the thoroughly modern world-class
Canadian federal police force of today, and while they no
longer use horses as part of their field work, they have,
with the Musical Ride, kept in touch with their equestrian
The first Musical Ride was performed in Regina in 1887,
and was a way for the early RCMP to both pass the time and
showcase their skills to the frontier communities.
The early Musical Ride maneuvers, because the first RCMP
officers were British-trained, were cavalry drill
exercises, and the first public exhibition of the Musical
Ride, with twenty horses, occurred in 1901.
The Musical Ride of today is performed by thirty-two
riders and a mounted director. It has added intricate
movements, borrowed from the dressage ring, to the cavalry
exercises, which the horses and riders must execute with
absolute precision at both a trot and canter, in groups of
two, four, and eight, all keeping time with the music.
So any horse talented enough to be selected as a Musical
Ride horse is special indeed, and the RCMP has its own
breeding program to ensure a steady supply. Musical Ride
horses are a cross between Thoroughbreds and Hanoverians
The Thoroughbred blood accounts for their height,
agility, and stamina, and the Hanoverian blood provides
their black coats, solid bone structure and quiet
The RCMP breeding program has one registered Hanoverian
stallion, but uses artificial insemination on about 90% of
its broodmares. The program’s broodmare band at Pakenham,
Ontario, has between twenty-five and thirty mares at any
given time And its Ottawa stables are home to about one
hundred schooling horses, and both current and future
Musical Ride horses.
Black geldings and mares, standing between 16 and 17.2
hands, and weighing between 1150 and 1600 pounds, meet the
physical qualifications for the Musical Ride. But that’s
just the beginning.
Musical Ride horses need a fluid and balanced walk, trot,
and canter, dressage and jumping ability, and a relaxed
demeanor both under saddle and in harness. They must work
well in close contact with other horses, and be healthy
enough to withstand traveling thousands of mile a year.
They must deal with large crowds, strange people,
new food and stabling, and sudden changes in climate.
The best Musical Ride horses can perform from the age of
six until their twenties. So they need conformation and
health which will hold up for more than a decade.
And, because the Musical Ride rotates its riders every
three years, the horses that stay in the program long
enough will have to adapt to new riders along the way.
The elegant, athletic, coal-black horses of the RCMP’s
Musical Ride are special indeed, joining the Budweiser
Clydesdales and the Lippizaners of Austria’s Spanish
Riding School as the world’s best-known and loved equine