RCMP’s iconic Musical Ride threatened by low morale, staffing issues: audit

The RCMP’s iconic Musical Ride program is foundering as an internal audit found pervasive low morale and worsening staffing issues are putting the iconic unit’s sustainability at risk

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OTTAWA — The RCMP’s iconic Musical Ride is foundering, according to an internal audit that found pervasive low morale and worsening staffing issues are putting the beloved unit’s sustainability at risk.

With its quintessential riders in red serge atop black horses performing in elaborate formation, the RCMP Musical Ride has become an iconic representation of Canada.

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But behind the photogenic performers and intricate choreographies lie recruitment and morale issues that threaten the program’s very survival, according to the internal audit report completed in December and recently released online.

“The sustainability of the Musical Ride is at risk, as divisions are not releasing a sufficient number of members on an annual basis to ensure its effective and efficient operation,” says the report, which was first obtained via an access to information request by independent journalist Dean Beeby.

“The mental and physical well-being of Musical Ride members has suffered in recent years and is contributing to low morale. Evidence suggests this is a pervasive issue which requires attention from management,” auditors also noted.

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Auditors interviewed 32 people, surveyed 88 past or present Musical Ride members, reviewed 144 documents, analyzed RCMP administrative and financial data and surveyed 109 communities that hosted the performance.

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The review found that the Musical Ride has an important cultural and heritage value, is an “effective tool” for promoting the RCMP’s image and provides solid returns for its relatively small cost (0.22 per cent of the force’s annual budget).

“It is seen as an iconic image of Canada and is the RCMP’s largest public relations vehicle,” reads the audit. “The Musical Ride is inherently positive, when often the RCMP is reflected in a negative light.”

But it also found that recruitment to the Musical Ride has been far from stable, creating a series of knock-on effects that threaten the unit’s sustainability.

A full complement requires 32 riders, allowing them to rotate active duty when the unit is on tour and better split the work of caring for the horses.

But the Musical Ride hasn’t been fully staffed since 2018, the audit found. In 2019, the number of regular members had dropped to 28. When the Musical Ride returned to touring in 2022 after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number had dwindled to 24.

Musical ride
Members of the RCMP’s Music Band march off the field after performing during the Musical Ride’s Sunset Ceremony in Ottawa on June 30, 2024. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER NARDI/NATIONAL POST

The RCMP’s website currently lists 26 riders, suggesting a slight uptick since the audit was completed.

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But auditors were already worried last year that Musical Ride membership would worsen as 15 members were already on their third or fourth year with the Musical Ride. A normal deployment is three years, though many members have been forced to stay longer because the unit hasn’t been able to replace them.

“The majority of these riders are anticipated to want to move on after the tour,” the audit noted.

“The Musical Ride is a physically demanding job that leads to an above-average number of injuries to riders; the longer they stay, the higher the likelihood of being injured.”

Part of the problem is that understaffed RCMP divisions are pulling the reins on transfers, the audit found. In recent years, 168 regular members have showed interest in joining the Musical Ride, but only three new members joined in 2023 and four more were expected to be added in 2024.

rcmp ride
Members of the RCMP’s Musical Ride are swarmed by fans wanting to touch or take pictures with the horses after the Sunset Ceremony in Ottawa on June 30, 2024. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER NARDI/NATIONAL POST

In response, the audit says, RCMP management approved a plan in mid-2023 that included mitigation strategies meant to rebuild the Musical Ride’s ranks. The audit noted there has since been an increase of members being released to the unit.

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Auditors also noted serious morale issues within the unit, particularly among members who joined after 2017. Nearly half of surveyed members said they did not feel supported by management. Many said their morale was significantly impacted by releasability issues, either because divisions weren’t releasing members to the Musical Ride or because they were having to stay in the unit longer than the normal three-year posting.

The cancellation of Musical Ride tours for two years during the pandemic as well as a leak of an internal WhatsApp chat of unit members during Freedom Convoy protests in 2022 also damaged morale, the report noted.

The audit contains five recommendations, including that management:

  • Find ways to encourage divisions to pony up some of their members to the Musical Ride
  • Develop a plan to improve employee well-being and morale
  • Use the program more effectively as a recruiting tool.
Musical Ride
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Mark Flynn, sitting next to his mother, waves at Musical Ride attendees as he is brought by horse-drawn carriage to attend the Musical Ride’s Sunset Ceremony in Ottawa on June 30, 2024. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER NARDI/NATIONAL POST

Management is now saddled with the task of saving the program. In its response included in the report, RCMP leadership promised to mount a series of plans that would address the issues by the end of the year.

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Leadership promised to begin encouraging members to promptly return to their region of origin when their three-year tour of duty was concluded and to establish a “systematic number” of annual candidates for basic equitation courses, the first step to joining the Musical Ride.

It also committed to establish a Musical Ride Morale and Wellness committee by February 2024 and already modified the selection criteria for future candidates to require a “stronger aptitude for riding horses and physical work.”

National Post


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