Story by Libby Keenan
photo credit CBC
Of course everyone knows about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride.
Founded in 1877 the ride has been performed countless times all over the world.The stables , just outside of Ottawa Ontario breed sport horses of a very specific size,colour and temperament for the drill team. Horses not meeting these requirements are auctioned to good homes about once every 5 years.
The most interesting point about the musical ride to me is the fact that all of the movements performed in it are at Dressage First and Training level. The key to the majesty of the spectacle is the fact that the choreography and timing are impeccable.
Once as a child I watched the performance at the Royal Winter fair in Toronto. For some reason one rider fell off. Rather than running away or heading for the stable his mount continued in formation and completed the entire show without any rider. I was astonished to realize the horses knew the routine at least as well as the rider and clearly enjoyed being part of it.
In Dressage, the Musical Freestyle rides are named Kurs. These can be performed with one horse and rider or two (Pas de Deux), three ( Pas de Trois) or four ( the Quadrille).
If you are a competitive rider , casual or simply wanting to have some fun with riding buddies and get to know your horses better and improve your riding as well, I would strongly recommend tandem and or group formation riding. It is a terrific way to learn how to use your seat and other aids to adjust your horse's pace. Start with walk figures. Going large learn to keep the horses heads even with each other. Some horse's natural strides are very alike but many are of much different length and speed and so you must adjust your mounts' steps to match that of the other horse/horses you are riding with . This can be done by holding with your seat or driving up with the leg , half halting or pushing a bigger stride out of your horse. Keep in mind the horse on the inside will need to travel considerably slower than the outside horse. so much so that depending on the number of horses in the ride, the one on the outside may be cantering and the inside horse walking.
It is a good idea to ride to fairly loud music with a clearly defined beat. Most horses will naturally adjust their stride to be in time with the music. Remember to control your horse with your legs and voice since you will be asking them to work very closely to another horse or two and you must always allow room for the next horse so as not to give an invitation for kicks and squabbles to begin.
With a little practice you will find yourselves ready to add simple figures to your ride. Changing the rein with horses passing each other at X always looks impressive. You must keep your head up at all times and your eyes on the other rider/s to be sure you will all meet merging points at the right time. In the case of passing at X you should always pass left to left meaning the horse you are facing is always on your left.Another move that appears much more difficult than it actually is is to have one horse on a 20 metre circle on one rein , another horse circling inside of that on the other rein adjusting strides so that the horses pass each other at say A and X.
You can have horses enter at A in walk or trot coming to halt abreast at X , proceeding you can then break off onto opposite reins at C. down the long side you could loop in to be side by side one or two strides at X and then back out to K and F. The possibilities are endless as long as keep your horse's manners and pace under control at all times.
Once your horse has some experience with this kind of work you can add trot and canter to the patterns with changes of the music adding to the overall mood of the movements.
This kind of work will make your horse much better behaved in the warm up ring at shows, much better mannered out hacking in company and much more adjustable in their gaits. In the process of learning to keep where you should be you will find yourself keeping your head up much better and you will find you have much better communication with your horse.
You may end up competing in some Kur classes as even most local shows now offer Freestyle options. Even if you just participate for fun with some riders from your own stable you will feel your confidence for riding in company soar. It's fun , great exercise, inspiring and creative to see what spectacles of your own you can create.
Have fun , safety first and enjoy your own Musical Ride 🙂 Libby Keenan