Bill Hillcoat remembers when he first learned to ride a horse after he joined the RCMP in the early 1960s at 19.
With 32 riders to a troupe, officers in the red serge perform similar choreography today for the RCMP Musical Ride, such as the “dome” from Canada’s previous $50 bill, “cross-overs” – Hillcoat describes that as “Xs and Os, but with horses” – and the charge.
Before he joined, he’d never been on a horse before.
“Not too many cowboys in New Brunswick,” he said.
In 1961, he did the Western Canada tour and in 1962 the Eastern tour down into California and Oregon, and Seattle to the World’s Fair, where he saw Elvis. “He was doing a movie, It Happened at the World’s Fair, one of those Elvis-type movies,” Hillcoat said, laughing.
All new recruits underwent a mandated four months of equitation, starting from scratch riding bareback and graduating to riding with saddles and other equipment. But not everyone took to it and joined the troupe.
Performing was the easy part, according to Hillcoat; it’s the practice, grooming the horses and cleaning the stalls and equipment that takes the most work.
The RCMP musical ride performs in Victoria this weekend, with shows at Topaz Park on Saturday (Aug. 26) and Royal Roads University on Sunday, as part of a cross-country tour to celebrate Canada 150. Performances include the 32 riders exhibiting choreographed drills, as well as massed pipes and drums.
And Bill Hillcoat will be there, front and centre.
“If they’re in town I always try to go. It brings back old memories of when I was a young buck,” he said.
RCMP Island District spokesperson Cpl. Tammy Douglas said the equestrian performance is a family-friendly event and a particularly appropriate way to celebrate Canada’s birthday.
“It’s a very Canadian feel to watch these mounties on horses, doing their cavalry drills. It’s pretty impressive to watch,” she said. “It’s iconic, right? The mountie on horseback is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world.”
If you can’t make it, two RCMP officers will be in front of the parliament buildings on Friday at 5 p.m., or you can visit the horses in the stables at the Hunt Valley Farm in Saanich on Friday (Aug. 25) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The performances, hosted by the Victoria Military Music Festival Society, begin at 1:30 p.m. in Topaz Park and the same time at Royal Roads University on Sunday. Both shows are free, but donations will be accepted to raise money for local charities.