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COLUMN: Surrey’s close connection with the RCMP Musical Ride

Ride to be showcased at Stetson Bowl June 24 - 25
The RCMP Musical Ride is seen in 2018. The iconic mounted police will perform in Cloverdale June 24-25. (Photo submitted: RCMP)

When the RCMP Musical Ride arrives at Cloverdale’s Stetson Bowl for three performances on June 24 and 25 the connection with the internationally celebrated equestrian team will be closer than many admirers may realize.

Ralph Cave, a former Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition chairperson—with whom I had the pleasure of serving—was once the RCMP staff sergeant/riding master.

It was due to Cave’s recommendation while serving in Ottawa that the outstanding Musical Ride service horse, Burmese, was presented by Staff Sgt. Cave to Queen Elizabeth II in London in 1969.

Her Majesty rode Burmese, a royal and public favourite, for 18 years in London’s annual Trooping of the Colour. Burmese was eventually retired, and is buried in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

I recently spoke with Sgt. Derek Quilley who is currently in charge of the Musical Ride troop. Quilley was the officer on foot with the mounted RCMP five officer team leading the Queen’s funeral procession in September 2022.

“It was a special event for us,” he said. “The Queen was so passionate about horses. Burmese started a connection and friendship. When we got to England we didn’t quite know where we would be in the long list of participants. To find out we were selected to lead in place of honour was amazing. It reflected what a great honour it was to my country.”

Recalling the sombreness of parade day, he said, “When we turned onto The Mall (leading to Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Monument via Admiralty Arch) the sight of the waves of quiet crowds of people was almost overwhelming. With the funeral march behind you, it was indescribable. I can tell my children I was there.”

Referring to the May to October 2023 RCMP Musical Ride schedule, the 150th anniversary of the RCMP, and the logistics of transporting 28 majestic black Hanoverian, Ontario-bred horses and 40 person team, Quilley described the importance of team work, and the incredible amount of work required to load, unload, unpack and set up in new stables at each destination.

Although the team accepts international invitations, reaching as many Canadian communities as possible is their community relations priority. As long as conditions are safe, performances proceed rain or shine.

While all team members are police officers with at least two years of duty behind them, riders and non-riders can apply.

To my surprise, riding skills are not a prerequisite. Teamwork ability is first and foremost. “I could teach most people to ride,” Quilley explained, “but the emphasis is on people who have the ability to function well as a team.”

If selected after initial tryouts, candidates return for a six-month equitation course, which includes stable management and horse care, before joining the main group for a three-year posting before returning to their detachments.

The first Musical Ride performance (then the Northwest Mounted Police) is believed to have been at Fort Macleod, Alberta, in 1876. To break up the monotony of riding drills, members competed amongst themselves and performed tricks on horseback.

In 1886 the NWMP riding school was established in Regina. In 1901 the Ride performed in Brandon, Manitoba and Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. With the exception of war years, the history of the Ride evolved to the profile we see today.

Historically, military music was the Ride choice. Now strictly Canadian artists’ music is chosen. “We highlight all genres,” Quilley explained. “French, English, whatever a young audience enjoys. Not too fast. A nice beat, a steady pace that the horses can pick up naturally.”

As we speak I’m aware of the elite status of the horses. Not only the care of these fine animals, but the esteem in which they are held. The need to avoid confusing and stressing them. The importance of respecting their positions in the protocol to avoid spooking them. And, the value of building trusting relationships.

As a former equestrian, I joke about my current poor riding skills. The thought of attempting anything on horseback brandishing a lance reminds me that I will view the RCMP Musical Ride team with renewed respect in the future.

Tickets for the Musical Ride are available now online at Tickets are $10 (plus taxes) up to the day of the show when tickets go up to $12 (plus taxes). Tickets will be $15 at the gate. Children 12 & under get in free, but organizers ask that parents reserve those tickets online.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the former owner/managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at

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