Renfrew – If there is such a thing as a groupie for the Musical Ride, perhaps semi-retired farmers Alex and Betty Briscoe fit the bill, having watched the ride perform in nine provinces this summer during a very special 150th anniversary year.
They also have a very unique connection to the ride because their son Andrew, the middle of three children they raised on the very busy dairy farm outside Douglas, is performing in his second year with the Musical Ride and they could not be more delighted. There is something almost magical about the ride for them and Mrs. Briscoe, sitting in her farmhouse dining room, becomes a bit emotional trying to express what the ride means to them and why they don’t grow tired of seeing the horses and officers in their red serge perform.
“I understand how hockey parents feel and the parents of astronauts,” she said. “It is so special to see your child doing something he loves. And he is so good at it.
“When he is at ringside after the show is over, it is so special to see him communicate with people,” she said.
Watching Andrew perform in locations where he showed animals as a youth growing up in the 4-H movement adds a lot of poignancy for her; but it is also the fact her son is pursuing his dream and following a path which began as a boy on a farm outside Douglas. Being able to celebrate that with him never grows old for Mrs. Briscoe, whose enthusiasm and youthful vitality exude to anyone speaking to her.
The Musical Ride is a long way from a boy growing up on the farm helping with the dairy and beef cows, but in many ways a natural fit for a man on a horse who loves animals and wants to place a high priority on relating positively to the public in his policing career. For his mom, it is a natural progression from a young boy who had his picture taken on Canada Day on Parliament Hill with a Mountie and was exposed early on to the possibility of a career in the RCMP.
Andrew, along with his older brother William, who lives on Stone Road, and younger sister Melanie, who now lives on the family farm, were all involved in curling.
“Because we were dairy farmers, I could not run them to hockey or ringette, but curling was something we could do,” she said.
They all excelled at curling and when Andrew was 13, he became involved in a curling team based out of the RCMP Curling Rink in Ottawa. It was right across from the Stables where the RCMP Musical Ride is based.
“That was his start,” his mom said. “He was really intrigued with the horses. You walk across the yard and you are there at the Stables.”
Although the family had little exposure to a career in policing, he went to Loyalist College for police foundations and later had his choice of either the RCMP or the Ontario Provincial Police. He chose the RCMP. He graduated in 2006 and was stationed in Manitoba, where he now lives with his wife and three children.
“We made trips out to visit but not as many as we would like because of dairy farming,” Mrs. Briscoe said.
Things changed in recent years when they retired from dairy farming – although they continue to live on a farm, have cattle and help out their children on their farms – and the opportunity to travel is more readily available to them.
Andrew began training for the Musical Ride in 2020.
“It was a big decision for his family because he has three children and there is so much travel,” she said.
However, just being selected for the ride is an incredible honour, she added. The process is intensive and requires various steps until the rider is part of the performing unit. Last year he began performing. A trip to the Renfrew Fair was very special for the extended family and Andrew.
When the Briscoes realized this year was the 150th anniversary of the ride, they decided to follow along and see the ride in every province in Canada they performed at this year.
“We went to nine provinces,” she said. “We saw a ride in every province across the country this summer.”
It was a bit of a lark at first and then became a goal and it is something they were delighted to do. It ended up being a summer of wonderful experiences, reconnecting with old friends, visitng family far afield and enjoying the camaraderie of the officers of the Musical Ride, who seemed to adopt them as well, she said.
The officers in charge of the ride heard about the goal the Briscoes had to see Andrew ride in every province, so when his horse was hurt and he was on a replacement horse, they also made sure to do what they could to ensure their goal was met.
“They made sure he was riding in the two shows we came to see,” she said. “Then, when we left New Brunswick, they said they would miss us.”
As part of this amazing summer, the Briscoes went on a helicopter ride over the Rockies, saw a passion play in Manitoba, visited with the Lieutenant Governor in her garden and saw Alabama play in the Calgary Stampede. Mrs. Briscoe also shed more than a few tears of happiness watching the Musical Ride. It would move her every time, she said.
“We are so glad we committed to do this,” she said.
Remarkably youthful and energetic retirees, the Briscoes embarked on their cross-Canada adventure after Canada Day. They had planned on leaving earlier, but little did they know they would be honoured by Admaston/Bromley Township as Seniors of the Year. In honouring them, Mayor Michael Donohue said the couple has been involved in numerous farm associations, 4-H clubs, the Farm Comes to Town and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. It is clear the energy they put into their life shows no signs of abating.
“So, we left right after the presentation,” she joked. “We arrived in Regina 30 hours later. We really pushed.”
Although the Briscoes had travelled extensively throughout the years, including showing animals in many locations, they had never been to British Columbia before this summer.
“It was such a wonderful trip. We did not get to Vancouver – we hope to do that another time – and we were there for Revelstoke which was their last show there,” she said.
The Musical Ride was performing at the foot of the mountain in a pony club facility, a glorious setting, she said. They returned to Renfrew County by July 17 having visited B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan and then were off on a bus trip to Quebec with the local soil and crop group.
“Alex and I hosted it, so we were busy,” she laughed.
Back home for a bit – they still farm and help with the grandkids — they flew to Winnipeg on the 28th of July. There the musical ride performed at the Assiniboia Downs.
“All the places they performed were so different. That time we got to watch through the window of a race track.”
Returning to Ontario, they drove to the East Coast in August, visiting PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In PEI they had a tour of the gardens with the Lieutenant Governor General.
“We had taken a walk while they were finishing loading and the gates were open,” she said. “It was a rainy day and she came out on the verandah and then came down to talk to us. It was lovely.”
Returning to Ontario they took in a few performances in the early fall including the last show of the year – a private one for invited guests and the diplomatic core – in early October at the Stables. It was a wonderful summer. They had also seen the ride in both Ontario and Quebec in May.
“They were so good to embrace Alex and I, the old dudes,” she said.
One of the riders is 59 with the youngest in their 20s. Andrew is 39 and welcomed having his parents share in this special summer with him.
Mrs. Briscoe is very proud of her son and all the officers and the work they do. She said speaking to the public and performing on the horses, they bridge gaps with people who may be hesitant to approach an officer otherwise. This public relations activity is vital, she believes.
“It is important to embrace respect because it makes your life easier,” she said. “You get respect if you show respect. Their job is not an easy one out there.”
For the Briscoes, it has been a summer to remember, and sharing it with their son is something they will never forget. Now it is back to the farm, back to the grandkids, helping out locally and taking on whatever challenge is next.