I’m standing on the Fort Museum’s inner quadrangle in Fort Macleod in southern Alberta on a hot, sunny morning. A crowd has gathered to watch eight horses and riders parade to a standstill for inspection. I look down at the badge labelled Inspector pinned to my borrowed red serge tunic – that would be me! I walk down the row, pointing out a twisted strap here, a helmet askew there. Then around the back where I spy a ceremonial braided rope not properly attached. The horses have been groomed to perfection. Hooves polished, manes and tails combed and gleaming and a perfect maple leaf stenciled on every flank. I learned how they do this but you’ll just have to see for yourself – as an Inspector, I’m sworn to secrecy. I walk back to the front and pronounce the troop ready to begin the famous North West Mounted Police Musical Ride in the outer arena.
Groom a Horse
While riders and mounts pose for photos, I am presented with a certificate for my participation – a lovely souvenir. This is all part of the Fort Museum’s Groom a Horse Program. Throughout the summer months, the Fort’s version of the famed Musical Ride is performed several times a day. Following each performance, the horses have their saddles removed and are groomed by their riders – dusty coats, manes and tales are brushed, hooves cleaned and shined and sweaty saddle blankets replaced. The horses are fed, watered and walked to cool down – it’s blazing hot most days and great care is taken to ensure their well-being. A while back, the Fort decided to start a behind-the-scenes program so folks like me could take part.
I signed up for the grooming that followed the first ride of the day. My horse’s name was Lyda and she was a beauty – a purebred quarter horse, like most of her stable mates, and all sharing the same colouring – rich chestnut bodies, black manes and tails and black stockings. Lyda happily munched from her feedbag as my host instructed me on the best techniques for grooming. As a girl, I had owned my own horse and it wasn’t long before it all came back to me. But even if you’ve never done it before, it’s really easy – and fun! Once we had her saddled up again, I was allowed to mount up and walk around the arena a couple of times. What a treat.
My inspector duties done, I followed everyone into the arena. The eight riders are all locals, most of them in their late teens – and all apparently have been riding since birth. They performed the crossing and weaving patterns to music and to perfection, ending with a full gallop from one end of the arena to the other. Fantastic!
Afterward, I strolled the grounds chatting with the costumed interpreters who paint an excellent picture of what life must have been like for these frontiersmen and women, the forerunners of today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Fort Macleod Historical Downtown
All this grooming and inspecting business has got my stomach growling. Across the street from the museum is the entryway to Fort Macleod’s historic downtown district. I strolled up and down a few blocks admiring the restored sandstone and brick buildings, some dating back to 1878, before settling on a place for lunch. Ah, a perfect grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate milkshake. My job here is done.