Horse hotel: RCMP Musical Ride takes over Whitehorse arena

18 dump truck loads of dirt, 175 bales of special hay and a lot of wood chips

RCMP’s Musical Ride is performing Sat. Aug. 12 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. and Sun. Aug. 13 at 1 p.m. at the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club’s stadium off of Sumanik Drive. (Serge Gouin/RCMP)

Whitehorse’s Takhini Arena is getting a new look later this month to make room for a group of 36 elite, specially-trained athletes.

Athletes that eat a lot of hay.

The arena is being converted into a makeshift barn for the stars of the RCMP’s Musical Ride. The horses are visiting Whitehorse starting August 9.

Eighteen dump trucks of dirt, 175 bales of a specific kind of hay, 100 yards of wood shavings and enough removable metal walls to create the necessary stalls are all being shipped north for the horses as they put on a weekend’s worth of shows.

A host committee made up of local organizers and volunteers has been working to make sure everything is in place before the three semi-truck trailers full of animals get here.

For example, the horses need to have their hay shipped in, said co-chair Inge Sumanik. Horses usually eat the same food every day to help their digestive system, she said. While the Yukon grows good hay, it’s not the same hay these horses are used to.

“Because they’re travelling so much and travel is stressful for them, and they’re living in different places, one of the way to keep things the same for horses is to feed them the same kind of hay.”

The team is currently on a national tour marking 150 years since confederation. Whitehorse is the only stop in the North.

As for their living arrangements, the RCMP horses are used to hanging out in unconventional barn arrangements, said Insp. Pat Egan, the officer in charge of the show.

“That’s a pretty standard stable situation for us. We stay in hockey rinks in virtually all the provinces.”

The horses arrive in Whitehorse August 9 and are putting on three shows at the Whitehorse Cross Country Ski Club’s stadium off of Sumanik Drive.

Shows are scheduled for August 12 at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. and August 13 at 1 p.m.

The ride will be going to Skagway for a show on August 14 before leaving the North the next day.

Takhini Arena will be open daily from August 10 to 13.

“People can go in and see the horses and talk to the ride members,” said Sumanik.

RCMP horses are not your average equine. They’re all bred by the RCMP at a farm near Ottawa. Each horse in the show is black and between 16 and 17 hands tall. (For the uninitiated, that’s really big.)

Up to 32 horses at a time are putting on a half-hour-long presentation. The Whitehorse events will also feature performances by local equestrians.

The last time the ride visited Whitehorse was in 1995 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Northwest Mounted Police arriving in the Yukon.

Getting the animals north is only part of the logistics that have had to be planned out.

The horses will be training before the shows near the Whitehorse’s Public Safety Building — and the appropriately-located giant metal horse statue — before walking to the cross country arena.

That means crossing public streets. Sumanik said RCMP officers will be temporarily stopping traffic so the horses can safely cross.

“Those people who are lucky enough to be in the front will be able to see the 32 horses crossing both across Two Mile Hill to the warm-up area and then again across the highway,” she said.

The visit to Whitehorse is a homecoming of sorts for Egan who spent 23 years as an RCMP officer in Whitehorse, Carcross, Haines Junction and Mayo before leaving the territory in 2009.

Prior to coming north he was a member of the musical ride from 1984 to 1986.

Spectators can expect to see the riders, all in their RCMP red serge, perform a series of choreographed movements set to music, he said. The show ends with the cavalry’s signature move “the charge” where the horses run from one end of the arena to the other.

“I think people are generally quite pleased with what they see,” he said.

Small bleachers are being moved into the cross country ski arena for a few people, including dignitaries to sit on, Sumanik said. Spectators are asked to bring their own chairs.

The cross country ski arena will also have extra sand brought in to create better, softer footing for the horses.

Once the horses leave the sand is going to stay and be used by the skiers, she said.

“We’re going to leave that for the cross country ski club because they’ve got snow makers and the sand will help make a nice bed for the snow makers.”

Sumanik estimates it costs $30,000 just to care for the horses while they are in the territory.

Tickets for the shows are $11 in advance or $12 at the door. Any profits will be donated towards the creation of a community dressage arena.

More information is available online at www.musical-ride5.webnode.com.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com