YORKTON - When Cst. Jennifer Dowden applied to join the RCMP she had a dream.
“I actually joined the Mounties to do this,” said Dowden in Yorkton this weekend as a member of the famed RCMP Musical Ride.
“I wanted to help people and do all the different police things … But I wanted to do the music ride,” she said, adding the “Musical Ride is unique to the RCMP.”
The desire to ride with the RCMP was a bit unusual given Dowden’s background.
“I really didn’t have a whole lot of experience with horses,” she told Yorkton This week Friday.
Dowden pointed out owning a horse can be an expensive proposition, and growing up in Newfoundland, one of three children with a single mother riding wasn’t an activity she took part in.
“It’s a bit of a mystery where the passion for horses came from,” she said, but added she knew it was something she needed to pursue. “Sometimes you just follow your gut.”
So Dowden joined the force, and waited for her chance to try-out to join the Musical Ride.
Was the wait worth it? Is being part of the ride what she dreamed?
“That and more,” she said, a smile flashing on her face, adding when she was initially accepted “it was a very emotional thing for me.”
Dowden spent four years with the ride initially, then went back to more traditional policing albeit not all in Canada. Still with the RCMP she spent time working with the U.S. Coast Guard, then it was off to Haiti and Columbia.
But, her heart remained with the horses and the Musical Ride, so when she had the opportunity to take a spot again in 2018 it was easy to say yes.
“I’d be happy to retire in the unit now,” she said.
While policing on the water with the Coast Guard and in different countries was interesting, Dowden said when she compares things “horses win.”
“I feel very lucky to be able to follow my passion to do what I love at work,” she said.
There have been some perks for Dowden as a rider.
Earlier this year she was one of five sent to Britain to help celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
“While there we rode horses gifted to the Queen by the RCMP over the years,” she said, adding they acted as escorts to members of the Royal Family for the event each day, including the Queen herself on the final night of the event in May.
It was the highlight of Dowden’s career.
“So far. I don’t think I can top that,” she said, adding she was with the Musical Ride when the entire group attended the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to perform.
“We rode to the three tenors that sang for us, so that was mind-blowing as well,” she said.
But this time it was more intimate in a sense.
“We stayed at the castle,” said Dowden adding “it was surreal … I’m staying in Queen Elizabeth’s castle and riding her horse.”
In fact, one day they were riding and the Queen was at a window waving.
It was the sort of experience which validated Dowden’s dream from years earlier.
“My heart and soul told me to do this. I don’t know why … but this is what all the hard work was for,” she said.
At the same time being a rider has not been easy.
“It was incredibly challenging,” said Dowden, adding the initial five-week course to see if officers have the aptitude to be a rider “was the hardest thing I ever did.”
The six-months to become an RCMP member “was very intense,” said Dowden, but she added she found that five-week course more difficult.
“It was so important to me as an individual,” she said, adding that likely added to her stress.
Of course the officer from Newfoundland had a lot to learn about horses.
“No, I didn’t take to it like a duck to water. It was a lot of blood sweat and tears,” she said, adding looking back that makes the experience all the more rewarding.
“It’s what makes it more special. It was really challenging. It was really hard to dig down and do what I had to do to be successful.”
Now back where she wants to be Dowden is a veteran with a group that this year has a lot of new riders and new horses who are out touring for the first time.
Both horses and riders have to get used to life on the road, time in trailers between communities, living in different stables for the animals and hotels for the riders.
In some ways Yorkton is the initial step on a journey of learning for the 24 riders and 28 horses and it is the first of 10 stops in Saskatchewan before heading back to Ontario for a trip through that province, into Quebec and onto the Maritimes.
And, Dowden looks forward to helping the younger generation grow into the Musical Ride.
“I feel this should be a career highlight for everybody who experiences it,” she said.