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Williamson discuses the Musical Ride and his role as riding master

Q AND A with riding master Sgt. Major Scott Williamson

Virden is close to home for you, being born and raised in Rocanville, Saskatchewan.

I left home in 2000 and joined the RCMP, left the farm and here I am today. So I’ve been pretty fortunate, as a young farm boy from Saskatchewan…getting to lead the Musical Ride…getting to go to the Queen’s Funeral…getting to go to the King’s Coronation. These are things that I couldn’t have dreamed in a million years that I would get to do but, you know, here I am and I am very, very blessed and fortunate to be in this position.

What are some of the highlights of participating in the funeral of Queen Elizabeth and the coronation of King Charles?

Two very different events. The funeral being very solemn and sombre. Given her age it was expected she wasn’t going to live forever but I think it still came as a shock because we all grew up only knowing the Queen and as members of the RCMP we swear an oath to Her Majesty.

Certainly, sadness was there and there was also a lot of pride because there you are representing your country…representing the RCMP. So, it was like these colliding emotions but it was just, you know, an experience that I’ll certainly never forget and an experience that I look forward to passing on to my kids and hopefully they will pass it on to theirs.

Then, a few months later, at the coronation and again, it was just an incredible experience. His Majesty chose the RCMP to lead the Sovereign’s Escort so we led the entire procession for the Queen’s Funeral and for the Coronation we were the very first horses, with the household cavalry right behind us and the gold stagecoach right behind them so we had a critical role to ensure that all the horses moved forward and that stagecoach didn’t come to a stop.

It’s so humbling, honestly, to be a Canadian…to be a member of the RCMP and to be leading those processions. It just goes to show how special the Royal Family sees their relationship with Canada and with the RCMP. “Pinch me” moments, for sure. 

You were chosen for that?

From all the contingents, from all the commonwealth they wanted a Commissioned Officer, a Warrant Officer and a select group of NCOs. So given that I’m a Sergeant Major who also holds the title Warrant Officer that’s how I got selected to go.

How do you get to lead a Musical Ride?

I’ve been a Sgt. Major on the Musical Ride now for the last two years. Typically, it’s the commanding officer who is at the rank of a Superintendent, a commissioned officer that would lead the ride, but he is away right now so then I step in, given that I’m the second in command.

What is role of Musical Ride lead?

We have what we call a charger… the horse and the rider that leads the entire musical ride in the show. Really, it’s hearkening back to our early days and the tradition of the commanding officer leading the troops into battle. We continue that cavalry tradition today. 

How long is the tour of duty?

We left on the road in early June and it ends this year October 3. So this year, being the 150th Anniversary of the RCMP we’re actually going from coast to coast hitting every single province other than Newfoundland, just due to logistics to get there.

Does 150 years make it extra special?

It really does. We’re recognizing this special accomplishment of the organization and our history and the men and women that came before us. But it’s special for us and the riders because we’re getting to see so much of the country, and for many of these riders… it’s their first opportunity to go coast to coast and see every single province.

How is an officer chosen for this?

It’s a good question. Every single member of the Musical Ride is a regular member of the RCMP. So, for example, if a Virden member wanted to apply, they have to have a minimum of two years (front-line service) before they can apply, and then from there it’s up to what we call staffing. Each province has their own staffing officer, they deem the member to be releasable and they [are] sent to Ottawa. There, they’ll undergo five weeks’ selection. If they are successful then they come back for a seven-month course. If they are successful on that, they’ll do another four months with the musical ride proper before they’ll ever actually perform. So you’re looking at about a year of investment in time before a member will actually wear the red serge and do the show. After their stint, they’ll go right back to front-line policing.

In the stables, away from the spotlight - tell us about the preparation for a show.

It’s like any type of performance, it’s always the things that go on behind the scenes… that’s the lions share of the work. When you’re dealing with horses, that work never stops. Horses are like people, they’ve got the same emotions, feelings, needs and wants as humans do so we’re always having to tend to their needs and they are, of course, our priority. Without those horses, we have no Musical Ride. We take a lot of pride in the way we look, our uniform, the way we turn out our horses and the equipment, so we take a lot of time to take care of that equipment.

You’ve been on parade here in Virden. Are the horses used to the traffic and the noise?

For the most part, yes. We breed all of our own horses and they go through quite a rigorous training process, much of which is riding them around the streets of Ottawa to get used to traffic, but having said that, we still have a lot of young horses in the musical ride. I think this year we have seven young horses. It’s their first time doing the musical ride so that can be a little bit nerve-racking for them but we make sure that we position them appropriately so they’ve got their buddies around them to keep them secure. As you saw today, everything went really well, and the more they do this, the more they get accustomed to it and the more they relax.

On July 18, you gifted a braided horse tail to the James Smith Creek Nation in Saskatchewan following the Musical Ride in that community. It belonged to Arctic, a black Hanoverian police service horse revered by the crowds as well as those who worked at the stables, but who passed away in 2022 due to declining health. You were looking to show support on behalf of yourself and the force following the tragedy that impacted the James Smith First Nation as they continue to heal. Tell us about that.

Arctic was my staff horse. Although he was my favourite horse, I think many of the members of the Musical Ride would even say he was probably their favourite horse, just simply based on his personality. If you get an opportunity to meet and greet with our horses, you are going to see they are all very friendly, they all like to be around people. Arctic really took it to another level. He was just like a giant puppy dog, and especially with kids. He would really come down to their level and he was very gentle.

Unfortunately… he just turned 19 and came up with a health issue that sent him to Montreal. He would have had to undergo a really intensive surgery and I just didn’t think it was fair for him. So unfortunately, we elected to euthanize him, and took the tail off of him.

My very first community that I was posted to was Melfort, Saskatchewan and the James Smith Cree Nation. So I just thought it was fitting that I gift Arctic’s tail to the James Smith Creek Nation for them to use in their regalia. It was very emotional for me and an emotional moment for the community. Having said that, I couldn’t be happier and couldn’t be more proud to know that Arctic’s legacy is going to live on in that community.

Is this kind of bonding unique?

Yeah, it is. I think anyone that has owned or ridden a horse can certainly appreciate that the bond between the horse and rider is very special. They are a pack animal…so they look for that comfort…they look for that alpha to be there to support them. That’s the relationship that is created between the horse and rider. They become a team.

Every year in the Musical Ride you give a rider a new horse and watch that relationship build. We try to look at riders, look at horses and try to match up their personalities…what we think will make a good team and that is a really fun process to watch.