Officer Mack on What it’s Like…
You come in, you have your roll call, you go out and exercise your horse, get ’em tacked up, whether you’re gonna lunge ’em or ride ’em a little bit. Different horses require different things. But you get ’em warmed up, and from here we just walk to work. We work downtown, Old Town, where there’s a high density of people. It’s a basically a walking beat.
T*he great thing with the horses* is that they’re really high visibility—if you’re having problems in a certain area, you go there and a lot of the problems just go away. It’s like the old saying about a cop on every corner…you just don’t have to have one on every corner because they can see you from several blocks away. And so can I. I can see what’s going on…I can see somebody doing a drug deal down there, or someone aggressively panhandling someone, or someone getting into somebody’s face. It’s real easy to get in there with a horse.
To do this job, you gotta be outgoing and willing to deal with people, because that’s what we do on a daily basis. You need to be willing to listen to people. And be able to take things at a little slower pace, because we just walk from point A to point B. We do make a lot of arrests though…we’re out there in old town and downtown, dealing with chronic issues. And you really gotta be willing to work hard. The thing that surprises people most when they get here is the amount of work that’s involved with the horse. There’s a lot of physical work that goes into it. And it’s long hours. And on your own time, you’re educating yourself…I’m constantly reading stuff and trying to figure out my partner. He doesn’t talk to me, you know, so I gotta figure out how to keep communicating with him. Then you got the weather—it doesn’t matter if it’s 30 degrees and raining; you gotta go out there.
Officer Mack on Working with the Public…
[The civilians are] who we work for. You’re my employer, that’s how I see it. I’m here to please you; I’m not here to please the chief of police, I’m here to please the citizens, who are paying my salary. And if you guys say you want the mounted patrol unit, well, you want the mounted patrol unit. That’s the way it is.
You’ve got a contact with the public that you don’t have when you’re on a motorcycle, or on a bike, or in a car. Especially with the little kids. Some kids have never seen a horse, and they come up and pet the horse and talk to you, and they have a positive interaction with the police, whereas before they may have had zero contact or negative contact. Because a lot of people are only used to seeing the police when there’s a problem. And that’s really positive. It’s also powerful with people who have mental handicaps and emotional problems. And it’s amazing, you can see it! And we deal with a lot of that in Old Town…you can see they’re anxious, and they start petting the horse, and “phew,” it just melts away, and they’re relaxed, and it’s been a great day for them—it’s an experience that they’ll remember.
For crowd control, we can move a lot of people in a non-threatening way. You don’t have to use force. If we’re on the ground, we’re eye to eye…I gotta push you back, and it’s one on one. but on a horse, I just keep steppin towards ya, and you’re gonna move out of the way, because I got 1,400 pounds on my side.
I can see the huge value in this unit. We’ve saved a lot of cops from getting hurt. Especially in crowd control situations…we’re like a moving wall. If these guys are on the ground and the crowd is surging at them, my job is to get in there and take it all so that these guys are safe. So the people that have really seen what the horses do, and witnessed them work, they can really see how beneficial they are.
Officer Mack on Horses…
I’ve had a bunch of horses that I’ve gone through. My favorite one is always the one that I’m on now…but Speedy was my first horse, and you always remember your first horse. He was a great little horse. We used to have quarterhorses, now we have draft horses. The quarterhorses were much more agile and would get out and away from ya…I fell off a lot more than I do now. I can remember on Speedy, in Waterfront Park, I was pretty new, and I can remember cantering and looking out at the river because we were cantering sideways, and just thinking, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” But he was a great little horse, and he taught me a lot. They all teach you something.
Horses are like people: they all have different personalities. The most difficult horses we have are ones that may have been spoiled in their past lives, and they’re stubborn, and you ask them to do something and they don’t want to do it and they throw a temper tantrum. They get to be like a three-year-old mentality, and you have to have enough tact to say, ‘we need to fix this, we can’t do this, this is unacceptable.’ But you’re doing it in a way that isn’t going to be harmful to them. They’re emotional animals, that’s what they are—big bundles of emotions on four legs that like to eat.
It’s really weird with a horse—you can be walking down the street, and everything’s fine most days, but today, a little piece of paper flies by and he goes, “that’s gonna eat me.” And certain horses, they’re very much into order.
In the training, we expose them to all sorts of things that they’re not gonna see in the real world. It gets them accustomed to seeing novel items and not having reactions to them. He may not have to ever walk through a plastic curtain, but it’s something that he went through, and nothing happened, and nothing bad came from the experience.
One time, I was out there by myself on a horse named Chief. Well, Chief had done his business on a crosswalk around 6th and Oak, and I cleaned it up, and I look back and there was just one apple sitting there on the sidewalk, and I had already put my little scooper back in the saddle bag. So I figured, I’ll just walk over there and kick it out of the sidewalk. Well, he was facing north, and the barn was north, and I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. So I walk out, kick it out of the way, and turn around—and he takes a step. And my heart just sank. I took a step, then he took another step. Then I took another step, and he just took off. He ran down 6th Avenue, crossed Burnside, down the north park blocks—just headed home. I was just walking down the street with my head down, and people would pass and say “Officer, didja lose something?” and I thought, “One day this will be funny.”
We don’t have very many injuries out there. Recently a horse slipped on the MAX tracks…he just stepped in the wrong place. There’s people that do things to the horses…years ago, we had a couple of horses stabbed. But that was a long time ago. For the most part, people try to hit the horses with things, but it’s not the norm. And that generally happens when there are crowd control problems, and things are going sideways.
My horse is dependent on me. A human partner, I figure he’s pretty much figured out what he needs to do. But I have to explain to my horse every time one needs to be done. Some of the older horses that have been doing it for a while, they pretty much know their job. So we put the younger guys on them, because the horses will pretty much take care of the rider. (But they’ll also take advantage of them from time to time, most definitely.) And if you’re not working on the relationship constantly, it’s not going to be successful. You have to put the time and the commitment into your partnership. Because if not, he’s gonna know it, and it’s not gonna work.
Horses are masters of intention. That’s how they’ve survived for thousands and thousands of years. They’re huge animals, and they can feel a fly land on them. They’re very sensitive, and they’re very intuitive. They pick up minute details, and they can feel tension. If I’m having a bad day, I gotta make sure when I go in and see my horse that all that’s behind me. If not, we’re gonna have a bad day together…he’ll sit back in his stall instead of meeting me, and think, “This isn’t good, what’s your intention?” And then you lose trust, and you gotta start all over again.