RCMP Musical Ride steeped in tradition, history

RCMP Musical Ride steeped in tradition, history

Tradition carries on Thursday for two performances at Prospera Place

Steve James and Justine Rogawski had very different experiences in their youth when it comes to horses.

James had ridden a horse a couple of times growing up, while Rogawski grew up around horses and competing in equestrian events.

Musical Ride horses are placed in their stalls at makeshift barn created in Kelowna Curling Club. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

Now both find themselves among the 36 riders participating in the RCMP Musical Ride, which was in Kelowna for two performances on Thursday at Prospera Place.

Related: Musical Ride will create traffic delays

For both James, who worked at the Kelowna and Lake Country detachment for 7 1/2 years, and Rogawski, who grew up in Langley and is on her first year of a two-year stint with the Musical Ride, it’s an honour to be part of a historic event within the RCMP that dates back to 1887.

“It’s not something I really imagined anytime actually doing, but it has been quite an experience. There is a lot of history associated with (the Musical Ride) and I feel very proud to be a part of that,” said James.

He is now on his third Musical Ride tour, working with a 13-year-old Hanoverian mare named Sybil.

Horse and rider are paired up in January for the year, and train together leading up to the start of the Musical Ride performance season, which runs from May until October.

James said each of his three horses are different in character and personality, bringing with it fresh challenges that off-set the repetition of detail that goes into learning and perfecting the Musical Ride routines from year to year.

“It’s a lot of fun doing the shows but the show is only a 1/2 hour of your time. There are also a lot of hours spent grooming, feeding and taking care of the horses. We do all the legwork. There are not helpers,” James said.

“We do get a lot of support from volunteers in getting the stables ready for our arrival as you can see here at the Kelowna Curling Club. But in terms of looking after the horses, it’s up to the riders to take care of that.”

Both James and Rogawski acknowledge spending that much time with a horse in a year, up to eight hours a day, leads to inevitable bonding between horse and rider.

“They are very intelligent animals to be sure,” James said.

Rogawski said she and her eight-year-old mare Honour are the best of friends.

“I think we make a great team. I have been with Honour since January and on the road since May,” she said.

“There is a lot of work, a lot of repetition, that goes into the routines but you realize how important the little things, the small details are.”

She says leading into a new show, sitting in the saddle she can feel the vibe of excitement from Honour.

“You can literally feel her heartbeat before a show starts as they can feel the excitement and start to get a bit anxious,” she said.

Corp. Priscillia Cote, the acting sergeant of the Musical Ride, said the experience for both James and Rogawski is shared by the other 34 riders.

Some have no horseriding experience, others do, but being a novice with equines doesn’t count you out as a Musical Ride participant, she noted.

“The process invites RCMP members from across Canada to apply, and they are selected from there to attend a five-week basic equestrian course each fall. Experienced riding is not necessary. Showing teamwork skills is as important as riding skills, but they are assessed at different points in their training for riding ability,” Cote said.

“After that basic course, an intermediate course is offered from January to June and graduation from that leads to a two-year commitment to the Musical Ride.”

The horses are bred at the RCMP horse farm just outside of Ottawa, with a stable of 20 Hanoverian brood mares.

Like James and Rogawski, Cote was part of the Musical Ride 2013 tour in B.C. and Ontario and the 2014 tour in Alberta and Quebec.

“It is quite a privilege to be part of this tradition and I feel very fortunate to have a chance to be part of it,” said Cote.

“This is my first year in this position. They gave me the reins in March and I have a lot of assistance from a support team that includes the Musical Ride riding master and two assisting corporals.”

Her daily task is to ensure all aspects concerning the safety of the riders and horses are attended to, and to manage the warm-up for each performance and provide a critical analysis of how each show played out.

“I look at each performance a little differently than the general public would, as I am keeping an eye on the perfection of the ride movements and give the riders feedback on what went well and what went wrong to improve on the next show,” she said.

The well-being of the Musical Ride horses while in Kelowna fell largely on a group of dedicated volunteers in support of the Cops For Kids charitable foundation, responsible for bringing the Musical Ride to Kelowna this year.

Related: Bringing the Musical Ride back to Kelowna

Grant Fletcher, president of Cops For Kids, said those volunteers, 10 people to a shift, spent the last week transitioning half the Kelowna Curling Club ice sheet floor into a horse barn, complete with stalls and floor covering of shavings and sawdust.

“The sweat level was high to be sure,” Fletcher said.

Cops For Kids was founded to support Southeast B.C. Interior residents in 2001, and has raised $4 million since then to assist families and children with medical treatment and equipment cost needs.

“Because of the need out there, we need to raise $400,000 to $500,000 a year to meet the needs of those families coming to us for help,” said Fletcher, citing the impact financially of the Musical Ride performances as a Cops For Kids fundraiser will be felt for months to come.

Fletcher added the hopeful financial success staging the Musical Ride is made possible from corporate sponsorship and donations, from the Prospera Place venue being provided rent free, to shavings from Gorman Brothers sawmill, sawdust from Tolko, the stalls from the Cloverdale Rodeo, to the TD Bank Group signing on as event partner.

The Musical Ride performances will be Thursday, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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