The Horses weren’t All black!

Their Horses

Today when we think of the horses ridden the Mounties, we automatically think of beautiful, shiny blacks standing about sixteen hands in height.

However, in the early years of the force, the horses of the N.W.M.P. were of many different colours: e.g.: dark bays, light bays dark browns, bright chestnuts, greys, buckskins, and blacks. For the most part, they were considerably smaller than their successors of today. Often they were not much over fourteen hands.

The N.W.M.P. needed hardy horses that could stand up to bad weather, long, hard patrols and often less than proper water and forage.
Experience showed that the toughened, smaller horses of the North West Territories and Montana proved better suited to these conditions than the finer looking, larger horses purchased in Ontario. On the prairies, some Indian ponies and numerous “broncos” had to be purchased to meet the N.W.M.P. requirements for horses. These native horses, though small, proved very valuable. As long as the Force had to depend on horses for patrol work in the West the same problem persisted, finding a sufficient number of suitable horses for an organization that was to become more like a first-class cavalry unit than an ordinary rural mounted police force.

When did black become the favoured colour?  Not until 1938!

In 1937, as Assistant Commissioner, S.T. Wood had headed the RCMP Contingent at the coronation of King George VI. When he saw the scarlet-tunicked Life Guards of the Household Cavalry riding black horses, he noticed how the black of the horses emphasized the glowing colour of the tunics and he envisioned the scarlet-coated riders of his own force riding black horses. The following year when he became Commissioner, he ordered that the RCMP should purchase only black horses.

It is proper that Canadians recall and respect the epic role of the N.W.M.P. in Canadian Development. Their role was intricately interwoven with courage, loyalty, diplomacy, determination, hard work, fairness and humanity. Many N.W.M.P. achievements which shaped Canadian events would have been unthinkable without the mobility supplied by their horses. How well the Mounties knew this!

To their credit, from its inception the Force has displayed an interest, care and attention for their horses worthy of emulation. The role of the horse has disappeared from day to day policing, but the dash and glory can still be seen in the R.C.M.P. “Musical Ride” which performs each year across Canada and around the world.

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