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Horses

The horse was always central to the NWM policeman's ability to do his job. But it was more than just a means of transport for the NWMP: the horse was a friend on a long and lonely patrol, a guide during a blizzard, and an extra set of ears and eyes when looking for stolen or lost horses.

On the March West, the men were assigned the finest eastern horses to be had - only to find that they did not have the stamina for the hard work or the ability to survive on prairie grass. Far too many horses died in the first year of the NWMP's history. Local horses were purchased to replace these losses and to keep the men on the move.

Commissioner Macleod recognized the need for a good supply of horses and established a breeding farm at Pincher Creek in 1878. The farm could not supply all the horses that were needed. As more ranches bred horses, the NWMP purchased their horses and by 1882, the breeding program was dropped.

Horses continued to be a concern and the idea of a breeding farm kept resurfacing. When the Commissioner wanted all black horses for the force, a breeding program was organized in Regina. When the space proved to be too small, the RCMP established their Remount Ranch at the former site of Fort Walsh in 1943. The ranch started a breeding program which crossed Percherons, Belgians and Clydesdale mares with black thoroughbred stallions in order to produce the tall, quiet and shiny black horses they desired for patrols, pulling the Governor General's carriage, ceremonies, and the Musical Ride. In 1976, a Trakehner stallion was leased to improve the bloodlines.

The most famous of the black horses raised by the RCMP at Fort Walsh was a mare named Burmese, born in 1962. Burmese was the first of three horses that the RCMP presented to their Honourary Commissioner, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. Her Majesty rode Burmese for almost all of her public equestrian duties from 1969 to 1986. Burmese was retired in 1986 and passed away in 1990. Burmese was one of the few horses that Her Majesty had buried on the grounds of Windsor Castle.

The stately black RCMP horse is now almost as symbolic of the force as a policeman in red serge.


Saddles

Saddles must fit the horse and be comfortable for the rider. This was especially true for the NWMP who often logged anywhere from 25 to 40 miles in a day. On the March West, the men used a variety of saddles from borrowed militia saddles to new Universal Flat Iron Arch saddles.

Although considered obsolete by the British Army, the NWMP ordered the Universal saddle for its men. It was disliked almost immediately: the saddle was heavy and needed constant repair, the steel stirrups rusted, chilled the feet in the winter and were slippery in summer. In 1876, thirty Californian Stock saddles were tested at Fort Walsh. The deep saddle with a high cantle and pommel, wooden stirrups and straight-legged seat made for a much more comfortable ride. The double girth kept the saddle in place in rough terrain. As well, it distributed the weigh of the rider over a much larger area. Still, some of the officers were not convinced. Inspector Walsh preferred a saddle used by the US Army, the Whitman, saying that it was cheaper, lighter and longer lasting. Commissioner Irvine favoured an English-type saddle. After several more tests, the Californian saddle proved to be superior. It was used until the horse was replaced by the automobile. For ceremonial use, the force continued to use the English saddle.

The first Californians were purchased from American companies for $23.50 (1884) each. By 1887, a Canadian supplier was found, the Hutchings Company of Winnipeg.

Bridles and Bits

A combination bridle and halter used by the British Army was issued for the March West. These bridles did not stand up to the rigours of the trail. Simpler bridles, outfitted with a Pelham bit and double reins were tried next. In 1883, the Whitman bridle and bit were adopted officially for the force's use. By the 1890s, all bridles and halters were being made by the force's own saddlers.

Wagons

On the March West, riding horses, unused to hauling, were often used to pull heavy wagons and guns.
The NWMP used many different types of wagons, basing their choice almost entirely on what was available. This included Murphy heavy wagons, express spring wagons, buggies, sleighs and horse-drawn toboggans.

Wagons were often employed on patrols. Since horses were always in short supply, two horses could pull a wagon holding four to five policemen and their supplies.

Hay

The saying 'an army marches on its stomach' applies equally to its horses. The March West was hampered by a shortage of oats and good grass along the route. At the posts, the men were employed often in cutting hay and putting it up for the winter. Where the grass had been burnt off by prairie fires, like at Swan Barracks, animals starved over the winter.

Hay was often purchased from local farmers and ranchers. Occasionally, some horses were sent to a winter range. In their first western winter, many of Fort Macleod's horses were herded to Sun River in Montana.


Review of the police at Fort Macleod.
Review of the police at Fort Macleod.



Corporal Rasmussen stands with Willie George at the Remount Ranch.
Corporal Rasmussen stands with Willie George at the Remount Ranch.









 

 

 

















Men, equipment and supplies travelled by wagons pulled by two to four horses.
Men, equipment and supplies travelled by wagons pulled by two to four horses.


In winter, sleighs and cutters replaced wagons.
In winter, sleighs and cutters replaced wagons.


 
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4. Establishment of a Police Force


Daily Life and Routine at the Posts
Development of communities around NWMP posts