Glimpse of Canadiana

BILL LAYE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:09 AM ET

It's been nearly 70 years since the Mounties used four-legged squad cars, but the horse remains an important central symbol for Canada's national police force, says the Musical Ride's commanding officer.

And over the next four days, starting today, Calgarians will get to see the RCMP's world-famous ceremony first-hand at Spruce Meadows.

"It is who we are -- we're recognized in Canada, the United States and in many parts of the world by the symbol of a member on horseback," Supt. John Gaudet said yesterday as the trucks carrying the horses and their gear pulled in.

"So we not only represent our organization, we also at times have the opportunity to represent our country."

The troop consists of 36 serving officers and their mounts -- 32 of which participate in any given performance.

Regular horseback training with the force ended in 1967 and the last time there were regular horse patrols was 1937, so for most members applying, there's a steep learning curve, said Gaudet.

Being raised on a ranch isn't always a guarantee of success since the Mounties use a dressage style, he said, adding the wash-out rate is around 50%.

"If they've learned to ride Western, the way we ride is substantially different so there's a lot of habits they may have to break."

Out of the RCMP's 18,000-member contingent, there is at any given time between 300 and 500 applications to join the troop for a three-year term.

Those who are selected take a five-week course in basic riding and horse care -- and if they pass muster at that stage, they have to complete six more months of advanced training before they ever see a show ring.

"They're really a select group," said Gaudet, who rode with the troop in the early '70s as a junior constable, served as its travel officer in the late 1990s and came on as officer-in-charge two years ago.

But getting all those horses and their gear off the trailers and into their digs at a venue like Spruce is as much an exercise in precision as the ride itself.

Const. Tamara Patterson, who's from Fredericton, N.B., helped clean up a horse named Herb, who guzzled five gallons of water in less than five minutes.

"I joined the Mounties to become a police officer first, but there's a lot of pride in being part of Canada's national police force and I knew from Day 1 that I wanted to be mounted on a black horse and be part of the Musical Ride."


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