July 14th, 2024

RCMP Musical Ride facing challenges ahead

By Justin Sibbet - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on July 6, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDjsibbet@lethbridgeherald.com

Hooves marching in formation, officers in Red Serge atop horses as they perform intricate drills in front of awed audiences, this is the tradition of the famous RCMP Musical Ride.
The North-West Mounted Police, the predecessor to the RCMP, began serving western Canadians in 1873, with the very first Musical Ride happening three years later in Fort Macleod.
Now, nearly 150 years later, the Musical Ride’s longevity is threatened by poor sustainability stemming from low recruitment.
“We have such a close tie to the RCMP as a town,” said Christopher Richmond-Krahn, collections manager for the Fort Museum in Fort Macleod. “(The Musical Ride) is always nice, it feels like it very much brings the community together.”
The Fort Museum in Fort Macleod is home to the North-West Mounted Police reenactment Musical Ride, based on the early days of the version now used by the RCMP.
That said, the history of the Musical Ride is more than just a show to enjoy on a relaxing summer day. In fact, the North-West Mounted Police used horses to patrol the vast territories in their jurisdiction. So, horses were not just traditional symbols, but important members of the team.
Even so, it did not take long for officers to start putting on shows with their horses for audiences, starting just north of Lethbridge 148 years ago.
“To break the monotony of endless riding drills, members of the Force commonly competed amongst themselves and performed tricks on horseback,” reads the RCMP website.
In 1938, with war on the horizon, constable Doug Minor and his horse, Timmy, were the final duo to work on an actual patrol in the RCMP’s history. However, horses were still regularly used by the national police force until 1966, when horse training became used almost exclusively for public relation purposes.
According to the RCMP website, the Musical Ride today is designed to promote the police service and increase recruitment numbers.
“The Musical Ride supports front-line police operations by building positive relationships, supporting recruiting efforts and promoting the RCMP’s image in communities in Canada and around the world.”
However, the RCMP is, and has for years, been dealing with high vacancy rates across the nation.
Earlier this year, Alberta’s deputy premier, Mike Ellis, wrote an opinion article in the Edmonton Journal stating Alberta alone had a vacancy rate of 20 per cent, while the national average sat at 17 per cent.
Many detachments say it is challenging to send officers to work a tour with the Musical Ride, according to an RCMP report from October 2023.
“Most (commanding officers) interviewed are supportive of releasing members for the Musical Ride but felt the current shortage of (members) across the RCMP makes this difficult.”
Each tour is meant to last three years, yet in some cases, the report indicates members have been forced to stay with the Musical Ride beyond their typical three-year tour of duty because there is nobody to replace them. This is potentially because “over the last few years, divisions have not been releasing many members despite 168 showing interest.”
Even so, the report says the Musical Ride is mostly effective, but the threat of it collapsing remains.
“Overall, the evaluation found the Musical Ride has been delivering on most of its objectives. However, there are areas for improvement, both within the span of control of the Musical Ride and external to it, to ensure the sustainability of the program.”
Richmond-Krahn says there is significant community sentiment toward the Musical Ride and losing it forever would impact the 150-year-old town. The RCMP troop most recently visited the southern Alberta town last year.
“Everybody seems to enjoy having them here and seeing them ride,” said Richmond-Krahn.
At the time of publication, the RCMP website indicates 26 members currently make up the Musical Ride, including two officers in charge. Yet the troop should have 32 members to be at full strength.
Between 2016 and 2023, every province and territory aside from Nunavut had at least one Musical Ride performance, with Ontario hosting the highest total at over 140.
More than just low overall RCMP numbers, the Musical Ride report indicates low morale within the troop, despite 81 per cent of surveyed current or former members agreeing they had made a positive impact on the RCMP’s image.
“There is a perception that the well-being of riders, both physically and mentally, is not adequately addressed.”
Of the members who joined the troop after 2018, 80 per cent say there is poor communication between the management and employees. Data from the same group of respondents indicates only 30 per cent have felt their physical or mental health has been adequately addressed during their tenure with the Musical Ride. Additionally, 57 per cent say their time with the Musical Ride was not a positive experience.
Of the current riders, two members joined the troop prior to 2018, according to the RCMP website.
In 2023, three members joined the troop and a total of four are expected for this year. 15 members are already on their third or fourth years, meaning their time is scheduled to be over by, or before the end of 2024.
Financially, however, the Ride is stable. As of 2022, the most recent year with data available, the Musical Ride costs the RCMP less than a quarter of a per cent of its annual net expenditure.
“All sergeant-majors indicated that the Musical Ride is worth the investment made. Many indicated that redistributing members and budget from the Musical Ride to other areas would only be ‘a drop in the bucket’ or ‘a band-aid solution’ that would have little impact on current resource issues.”
The RCMP report had several recommendations to improve the sustainability of the Musical Ride, as well as member morale while in the troop.

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