PENTICTON, B.C. — Retired Mountie Katherine Hansen was overjoyed when she was offered a second stint in the RCMP's iconic Musical Ride this summer, but just days before she was to join the team in March, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the tour season.
Hansen took the setback as an opportunity to do something she'd wanted to do since she first served on the Musical Ride from 1996 to 2000 — write stories for children about the ride, which sees 32 riders and their horses that perform intricate figures and drills choreographed to music.
"During the performances you can see how the Musical Ride really resonates with people, makes them feel deeply Canadian and everyone wanted something to take home with them and very often I thought, wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a children's story that we could hand out at the end of each performance?" Hansen said, speaking from her home in Penticton, B.C.
"I just never had the time after I left the Musical Ride. I went to Newfoundland and then I came all the way back to B.C. It wasn't until COVID hit that everybody started working from home that I thought, now is the time to write my stories down."
Hansen has written three stories, with plans to write one for each province. The first, "Harry the Musical Ride Horse," has just been released and introduces Harry and his best friend, Stephan, a little field mouse that lives in his pack box, travelling with him and acting as his voice of reassurance.
It's for sale through the Mountie Shop, and Hansen is donating ten books to charities for every 100 that are sold.
The RCMP Musical Ride performs in up to 50 communities across Canada between the months of May and October.
Hansen was transfixed when she first saw it as a child. At seven, she wore a red cape and rode her black mare over the hills around Penticton, imagining herself as a Mountie in a Musical Ride performance.
"I was completely mesmerized by the performance and the horses and the team drills, the music, but the whole spectacle spoke to me, even as a young child."
In 1992, she joined the force and got to be on the Musical Ride four years later. She retired from the RCMP in 2016 and returned to Penticton, but was immediately asked to be a reserve constable, and since then has taught elementary children in schools about the hazards of alcohol and drugs.
Then in January, the Musical Ride contacted her. They said they were short of riders. Would she be interested in touring with the Musical Ride in the summer?
She was only a week away from boarding a plane to Ottawa to prepare for the summer tour schedule when COVID-19 blew it all apart.
It was a terrible disappointment. But Hansen decided it was a good time to write the children's stories she'd imagined compiling years ago.
"Everybody's feeling anxious, and a thousand dreams have been kind of crushed by this pandemic. Maybe I can take this pandemic to put out something positive into the universe at this time. Maybe this is the time to do it," she said.
The second book, which she hopes will be released next month, is "Harry Goes to Newfoundland." The third, "Harry Goes to the Calgary Stampede," is planned to be out before Christmas.
Cover art for the current book is by a Vancouver Island artist, Joan Larson. Illustrations are by Trish Lafrance of Campbell River, B.C., who like Hansen is also a former team member of the Musical Ride.
Hansen said she hopes the stories of the mouse encouraging the horse will encourage children to speak with someone when they have something that's bothering them.
"Of course, I'm also trying to reach that horse-crazy little girl that I was at one point," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2020.
—By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton.
The Canadian Press