BARRIE ISLAND—For Americans, it’s all about the red, white and blue. For Canadians, it’s the red and white. Or in this case, the red and black. The anticipation of the nearly 2,000 people waiting for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride to start at the Gore Bay Airport last Tuesday could be felt in the air as people craned their necks, waiting for the tell-tale glimpse of a red jacket or a black horse mane.
Before the main event, spectators were treated to a canine response demonstration put on in conjunction with the OPP, Sudbury Police, Espanola Police, and Ministry of Natural Resources. Dogs and their trainers demonstrated training in obedience, attack and searches. The dogs are also trained in tunnels, water, stairwells, ballistics, attack, wildlife detection and to protect their handler on command, even when under gunfire. The dogs are trained with four basic steps, each involving their two favourite things—their trainer and their Kong ball.
Greater distractions are introduced gradually, usually through their surroundings. Dogs are first taught to find their trainer in a place with few urban distractions, such as a wooded area, followed by something more industrial, like a warehouse. Dogs are next moved to a residential area with more people and are trained to stay on scents. Finally, the dog is put in an urban area with lots of people, noises and distractions. It takes each dog at least four months to complete the general service portion of their training, and every eight weeks are taken to the OPP to see how their training is coming along. Out of every 100 dogs, only one usually makes it through training to become an attack dog.
Spectators took advantage of a brief intermission after the canine presentation to grab a snack at one of many vendors, or peruse the arts and crafts displayed.
A car show was up next, featuring some of the Island’s finest old and new cars.
Dignitaries including Gordon/Barrie Island Reeve Jack Brady and his wife Glenda, stable hosts Lyle and Heather Strain, Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin and Municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island Councillor Barbara Barfoot took turns congratulating the community on their fantastic work in bringing one of Canada’s most recognizable shows to the Island, and thanking the huge numbers of volunteers, without whom the show never would have been possible.
It wasn’t long before the crowd’s murmurs of excitement grew again, and people started craning their necks, watching for a flash of red or the sound of hooves.
With British military in many of its rider’s backgrounds, the Musical Ride’s basis is cavalry drill movements. The first official ride was performed in Winnipeg in 1887. Today, each Mountie must serve at least two years of active police work before applying, and only serve three years with the musical ride, so approximately one third of its riders are rotated every year.
Each ride is performed by 32 members and their horses, with multiple cavalry drills and movements choreographed to music. Not only are the horses and riders required to perform on tour, they must also perform at Parliament Hill, in parades and special events, and must be available for meet and greets with the public. Between May and October members of the ride will perform at 40 to 50 locations worldwide.
Four years ago Christa Flood, Charles C. Mclean Public School’s Kindergarten teacher, travelled to Sudbury to watch the ride. She enjoyed it immensely and was excited for the opportunity for her students to tour the stables. She commented on how the Mounties and their horses had trading cards to collect when she saw them in Sudbury, and while she was a little disappointed this ride also didn’t feature them, she still had enough from her first meet and greet to pass out to each of her students.
“It was kind of overwhelming for them because the horses were so big, but one of the officers holding a horse asked if they wanted to pet the horse,” she said. “It was so big they couldn’t reach! Sometimes the officer would lift them up, sometimes one of their helpers would.”
“It was a nice experience they may not always get,” she added. “And how great for them to make those connections.” Ms. Flood explained the children were learning about the five senses, and were able to connect things such as their sense of smell to the hay in the barn.
“You drive by the field and you smell the hay, but you don’t realize that what the animals are eating,” she explained.
“They ate kind of like a camel. I noticed they moved their lips side to side. It smelled like an Alpaca farm,” one boy said.
“It was great when I got to pet the horse. Bailey (her Grade 6/7 reading buddy) lifted me up to pet the horse,” said one female youngster.
The public was also invited to tour the stables before the ride.
“It’s a chance to meet the RCMP and to see the Musical Ride,” said Cathy Joyce of Spring Bay. “I’ve actually never seen it.”
She had brought her 2 1/2-year-old son David with her to meet the horses before the actual event.
“He loves horses, trucks and tractors, so he’s just in heaven. It’s important to teach David things beyond the daily,” she explained. “It’s great they can bring such big names to the West End.”
Two First Nations Mounties also took time out of their day to visit with students at Wasse-Abin Pontiac School. Teacher Sharon Lavallee contacted the RCMP, and Community Safety Officer Jamie Peltier facilitated the meeting. Constables Erin Beaulieu and Jason Marsden spoke about their career, their role in the Musical Ride, training involved and travelling involved in being a member.
“It so surprising when Constable Jason Marsden shared his journey to England with the Musical Ride and how they were taught proper etiquette before coming before the Queen,” said one student about their experience meeting the RCMP officers.
“RCMP were awesome!” said another student. “It was very nice to meet them.”
“I think it was pretty great! I kind of want to be one,” one student said about the impression the Mounties left.
Immediately after the performance, spectators had a chance to meet with some of the riders and their horses.
“Eighty percent of us have little or no training,” said Constable Steven Saulnier of the RCMP about their training with the horses. He said they train for a full year, three hours and day and five days a week before getting to join the tour. Each person is only allowed three years of service in the Musical Ride before pursuing (or returning to) other jobs. This is Constable Saulnier’s first year on tour. He previously spent three years as a police officer.
His mount, Altivo, is in his third year of being a RCMP horse, although he almost didn’t make the tour. Due to an infection, Altivo lost all sight in his left eye. Most thought he wouldn’t be able to complete the complicated routines he’d have to perform, yet he’s been able to prove everyone wrong at each turn, following instructions and becoming part of the seamless routine.
Constable Saulnier will be a little sad when his time with Altivo is over.
“You do grow quite a bond,” he said. “You spend all day with them.”
Constable Saulnier will have a bit more time with Altivo, though, as the tour is headed out west for more shows, as well as filming an episode for the upcoming season of the CBC television show Heartland.
“This has been a great turnout, we’re very happy to be here. We’ve made and imprint on your field,” he laughed.
While the imprints left by the horse hooves will be leveled out, the imprint on the spectators will last awhile longer. With Canada Day just around the corner, Islanders have yet another reason to feel some national pride in the red and white.
Steph Burt Hillyard