By Marcia Love
There couldn’t have been a more perfect setting to witness the talents of horses and riders as the RCMP Musical Ride returned to its roots at Fort Walsh National Historic Site on Tuesday evening.
In a scorching 32 C, almost 3,000 people descended on the fort for the spectacular display of horsemanship as shown by 33 officers.
As the birthplace of the North West Mounted Police in 1875, and the site of the original RCMP Remount Ranch from 1942-67 where the force’s iconic black horses were raised, Fort Walsh has played a significant role in the history of the RCMP.
Guests from around the province as well as all across Western Canada, Ontario, the Northwest Territories, Montana, and even England and Japan covered the hill facing the fort awaiting the show.
The evening began with a grand entry by Nekaneet First Nation, with band members drumming and dancing. The South Alberta Pipes and Drum Band then performed, followed by a NWMP battle re-enactment by staff at the fort.
Master of ceremonies Kim Johnston of My96 FM in Medicine Hat opened by introducing VIPs, which included MP David Anderson, MLA Wayne Elhard, assistant deputy minister for the Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sport Twyla MacDougall, Tourism Saskatchewan representatives, and guest of honour five-year-old William Francis-Schimpf. Another special guest acknowledged was Meda Paterson, who recently turned 100 and whose grandfather David Paterson was stationed at Fort Walsh for part of his career before retiring in 1908.
As Inspector Patrick Egan led in the officers on horseback, a salute was given to young Francis-Schimpf who continues to receive leukemia treatments.
The crowd applauded enthusiastically as the horses and their red serge riders performed impressive cavalry drills set to music – such as the star, bridal arch, revolving turnstiles, swinging gates, wagon wheel, cloverleaf, and the dome – as seen on the back of the $50 bill. They ended the 30-minute performance with their famous charge.
Cypress Hills Destination Area executive director Gail Kesslar noted one of the most interesting aspects of the Musical Ride is that the bloodlines of all the horses can be traced right back to the horses at Fort Walsh.
As the first event of this size the staff at the fort have held, everyone rose to the challenge, she said.
“It’s a challenging venue simply because of the one road in and out and not a lot of parking,” Kesslar stated.
Attendants parked in the field at the top of the switchbacks and were bused down to the site.
The only issue encountered was long line ups at the two food trucks as two vendors were unable to make it. But it was an enjoyable evening – especially for those seeing the RCMP Musical Ride for the first time.
“This was an incredible event for us. We’ve had some feedback from people, and we’re going to strive to do even better, because we do have plans to host others events of that size and scope,” Kesslar said.
The RCMP Musical Ride was last at Fort Walsh in 2005, but performed in Maple Creek four years ago.
Musical Ride horses are bred and raised at the Remount Detachment at Pakenham, Ont. Careful pairings of selected mares and stallions produces the black horses suitable for Musical Ride purposes. They measure 16-17.2 hands high.
The tour travels with 36 constables and 36 horses, making stops in about 50 communities in six provinces for this year’s tour.
RCMP constables must serve two years in the regular force before they can apply to join the Musical Ride. If selected, they then tour for two years before returning to active police work.
Const. Shawn Huygen from Cornwall, Ont. is one of the members on the tour and had never ridden a horse prior to applying. He began his six months of training at the Rockcliffe Park Equestrian Centre in Ottawa in the summer of 2013 and has been performing since May 2014.
“I was looking for a new challenge, and it seemed like a good way to visit different communities and learn more about them,” he explained.
For the members, it’s an ever-growing learning opportunity and an unforgettable experience.
“A lot of the people who are on the Musical Ride learn everything when they’re on the Musical Ride,” Huygen said. “You keep learning every day – even today doing the show means still learning.”