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Canadian Mounties' Musical Ride Combines Precision, Tradition

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are a symbol of Canadian pride. Their characteristic red jackets, blue pants and Stetson hats are easily recognizable. The RCMP's Musical Ride is one of the big draws outside the Olympics.

The RCMP has brought its equestrian demonstration team to the Olympics - in Surrey, British Columbia for the Musical Ride - part precision horsemanship, part recruiting tool.

Each Mountie in the musical ride is handpicked, and commanding officer Inspector Marty Chesser says that there are hundreds of applicants each year.

"There's over 800 members who express an interest every year to come on to this and we take 32 per year," said Chesser. "So we have two courses for five weeks, 16 members. They don't have to have any riding experience whatsoever, and we teach them how to ride."

The riders and horses undergo rigorous training, including how to deal with the public in a variety of situations - such as huge crowds of Olympic fans. There is also intermediate training before members are allowed on the ride.

Each of the horses are Hanoverian-thoroughbred cross breeds, and are chosen from a stable of about 160 kept in Ottawa. The musical ride has been a Canadian tradition since 1887, but this is the first year that there are more women on the team than men.

Constable Lynn Willms and her mount Angel are part of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride
Constable Lynn Willms and her mount Angel are part of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride

One of those women is constable Lynn Willms, who was a veterinary technician and then became a member of the police unit. In the barn before a show as she dressed her mount Angel, Willms said she chose the RCMP because of the opportunities it offers and because of its national reputation.

"The RCMP appealed to me just because there are a wide variety of opportunities all across Canada," she noted. "You know, special sections and things so every 3, 4, or 5 years you can do something new and exciting and that's every appealing to me. And it's our country's national force and I live in a great country so it's an honor for me to serve here."

Even cold and rain in Surrey don't deter a crowd of nearly 1,200 from piling into a tent to watch the officers put their mounts through several paces.

There are only 35 officers on the team along with five staff, including truck drivers and a farrier. An officer's term usually lasts for two years, with about half rotating out each year.

As part of the Vancouver's Olympic celebrations, the entire team on the musical ride paraded their horses to the Olympic cauldron along the city's waterfront. The RCMP's musical ride will continue in Surrey throughout the Games.

The Musical ride's next tour of Canada is expected to start in mid-May.