Officers with the RCMP's Musical Ride are known for their horsemanship, but their time with the ride is more than an equine experience. The ride reinforces skills that are invaluable to police work.
Musical Ride officers spend between two and three years away from regular work caring for horses, practising the show and travelling across Canada performing.
But time out of the field doesn't mean officers are out of the loop.
Cst. Jennifer Dowden and Cst. Scott McArthur, who both returned to the Musical Ride after a few years of police work, say the teamwork, time management, communication and physical abilities needed for the ceremonial ride are closely related to policing.
Time keeping and teamwork
"Time management is a major factor," says McArthur, adding that when the show arrives at a venue, there can be less than an hour to prepare.
In that time, horses need fresh food and water, a clean stall and grooming before being tacked and ready.
Dowden, who's been with the RCMP for 12 years, says making the best use of time is an essential skill for all police officers.
"Time management is one of the biggest things you learn right from Depot (RCMP Training Academy)," she says. "You fine tune those skills with the Musical Ride because you're working with 40 people and 36 horses."
Both McArthur and Dowden say that maintaining the tight Musical Ride schedule is made easier with a strong team.
"Everyone's assigned duties so they know their job," says Sgt. Jeremey Dawson, an instructor who's been with the ride since 2006.
Dowden says that officers rely on one another to get separate tasks done and keep the show running smoothly.
"Similarly, if there's a traffic incident and a road needs to be shut down, I can count on my partner to do that," says McArthur about general police duty.
While communication with each officer on the ride is essential, being on the ride also improves officers' ability to speak with Canadians.
Dawson says people may be more comfortable speaking to an officer wearing the red serge on top of a horse than an officer on foot, which can lead to more interactions with the public.
"We learn from each community and find out what issues are consistent across the country," Dawson says. "When officers go back into the field, they have an idea of the issues."
"When the Musical Ride visits, people want to see you and want to talk to you. It refreshes your perspective on being a police officer," says Dowden.
Taking things in stride
The RCMP Musical Ride began as a way to show off the equestrian skills needed for policing the Prairies in the late 1800s. The days of widespread mounted police units have passed, but everyday policing is still relevant to the ride — especially the physical aspect.
"This is one of the most physically demanding courses in the RCMP," says Dawson.
Officers go through fast-paced training, learning how to ride and care for horses. Many who join have no prior horse experience.
"When your body's not used to riding a horse twice a day, five days a week, you get rubbed and sore," Dowden says. "It's easy to get hurt riding horses."
"But with most injuries, people are able to jump back up onto the saddle," says McArthur, who joined the RCMP in 2008. "This year I was kicked in the thigh by a horse. Did it hurt? Yes. But we work through that pain."
And maintaining their policing skills while on tour is more than just good practice — it's necessary. In 1991, officers on the ride were redeployed to security assignments at government buildings, embassies and consulates, due to the Persian Gulf War and an increased threat of terrorism.
"Some members may think that going to the Musical Ride may negatively impact their career, but I can honestly say it doesn't," says McArthur.
"We help make better-formed members through and through," Dawson says.