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cityscape

Where Do Police Horses Come From?

For the Toronto Police's mounted unit, finding the right horse is a finicky business.

20121101-Toronto-Mounted-Police-0022-Photo_by_Corbin_Smith

With just a hint of trepidation, Sergeant Jim Patterson urged his ride—a five-year-old smallish black gelding named Bobby—through the back door of the CNE Horse Palace and out onto Manitoba Drive.

To Patterson’s left, Constable Harold Williamson sat atop Moose, whose dark mane was cropped short save for a frizzy forelock hanging down between his eyes. Despite the inexperience signified by this hairdo—it’s given to all horses who are still undergoing the months-long training process that precedes a job with the Toronto Police Service’s mounted unit—it would be up to Moose to set a good example, on this rainy November day, for a horse more green even than he. Bobby, from a farm in the vicinity of Wingham, Ontario, had been in the police stables less than two short weeks.

“I’ve ridden him for the last week or so,” Williamson had explained earlier that morning from beneath his droopy mustache as Bobby and Moose were being groomed and saddled. “Sergeant Patterson’s going to take a crack at him today.”

Turning left onto Princes’ Boulevard, Patterson, Williamson, Bobby, and Moose headed east towards the Princes’ Gates, with frantic Lake Shore Boulevard in the distance. “I try to communicate my calmness,” said Patterson, aware of how unpredictable these early rides on busy city streets can be. “It doesn’t take much for me to transmit to this thing that there’s a problem.” But, later that morning, after the foursome had returned from a two-hour stroll through Parkdale, Patterson was impressed. “Some streetcars, big vehicles, guys unloading off the back of their truck on one occasion, bicycles,” he said. “He doesn’t seem to mind much at all.”

Bobby was making a good impression. Provided a visit with the vet didn’t reveal any problems he’d have a job, and the police wouldn’t need to buy another horse until the spring. For Patterson and Williamson—the ones in charge of choosing and buying the unit’s mounts—this would be something of a relief; unfortunately for them, they have no magic formula when it comes to finding horses well-suited to police work.

With 25 horses belonging to the unit, and with each capable of working a good 20 years, Patterson and Williamson are only periodically in the market for a new recruit. Unlike the RCMP, which runs its own breeding farm in the Ottawa Valley, Toronto’s mounted police rely on a small handful of local farmers and breeders to be always on the lookout for a good horse at a reasonable price.

The amount the police are willing to spend ranges from $3,500 for an average horse to as much as $5,000 for an exceptional one. In the world of buying and selling horses, even the latter number isn’t a huge sum. “We kinda take what we can get,” says Patterson. “To us, it’s not so important what they look like, it’s what’s between the ears—how they think and how they perform.” Negotiations begin with an asking price from the horse’s owner. “It’s no different than selling a used car,” Patterson explains. “They go, ‘This horse is pretty good, he’s big, he’s handsome.’ All these different attributes. The big thing is: how much training have they put into him?”

The value of training is not lost on Glen Lundy, a breeder from Creemore, Ontario, visiting Toronto in early November with the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. “The training and the hours that go into a horse make the horse,” says Lundy, who has seen some of his mounts go on to work for Patterson and Williamson. “The only value you get paid for is the time you put into it.” The slow training process—initiated by either Lundy or his granddaughter, who works with him—begins with establishing trust. “That horse has to trust you on the ground. If a horse doesn’t trust you on the ground,” Lundy says, “you better not get up.”

Though the police used to save about $1,000 an animal by buying horses that were completely untrained, they will now only consider ones that are able to be ridden. And Williamson, the person who is most often sent out to test-ride candidate horses, has developed a strategy for ensuring that they will, in fact, calmly wear saddle and rider before he climbs aboard. “I say [to the seller], ‘Okay, you get on him,’” Williamson explains. “Because I’ve had a few times when the guy’s said, ‘Oh, he’s good,’ and then you get on him and all hell breaks loose.” Williamson would just as soon leave such excitement to people like Lundy, who has considerable experience in the field. “If you’ve ever gotten on a horse, more than a few times,” Lundy says, grinning, “you’ve probably been off.”

The decision to buy is not based solely on Williamson’s initial assessment. A sale is only finalized after the horse has had a successful tryout with the unit. “We have kind of a unique deal with people,” Patterson says. “If we agree to buy the horse, we’re going to pay you $3,500, but we have two weeks to look at him, and the vet has to pass him.”

This policy proved to be Bobby’s undoing. By early January, his time in the police stables was little more than a memory. The day after his successful ride with Patterson, his candidacy was over when the vet discovered problems with his hocks that would make him vulnerable to developing arthritis as he aged. “In the country, a horse with arthritis, they have a bit more time to sort of get up and get moving in a pasture,” Patterson explains. Not so for a stall horse. “It was just one of those things that, potentially, he was not going to work out in terms of a long life for us.”

His replacement did not prove easy to find. “All our usual places just had nothing in the stream that was usable for us,” says Patterson. “So for this one we just sort of cast our net a little wider.” Eventually, they got wind of a family near Shelburne, Ontario that was looking to sell a bay-coloured Clydesdale-thoroughbred cross named Tetris. At seven, he’s a little older than the horses Williamson and Patterson tend to buy, but he did well during his two-week trial, passed his vet check, and was welcomed into the fold. Now he faces at least an additional six months of training, a name change to something befitting his personality, and assignment to one of the unit’s constables.

For the time being, Patterson and Williamson can put their trial-and-error search to rest. Soon enough, though, a horse will have to be retired, and the hunt for a replacement will be on again. “There’s always another horse out there,” Patterson says. “We’ll always find another one.”

Comments

  • MrKanyo

    Beautiful animals…but it’s time to poop and scoop like every other responsible animal owner.

    • torontothegreat

      Except horse shit composts naturally, dog shit not so much.

      • MrKanyo

        In parks and grassed areas, fine. The problem is the monster piles in the rights lanes of roadways, where horses usually travel when on the streets. Legitimate hazard for cyclists and other small vehicles.

        • estta

          Not to mention the sidewalks. Every Monday morning Peter and Richmond is covered in horse poop. Some of the calèche in Montreal have pouches on the horse to catch the poop, it would be nice if the police in Toronto had something similar.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            I swear they used to send someone around a few blocks behind the horses scooping up their crap, but I haven’t seen that in 10ish years.

          • estta

            That would be pretty nice! Because right now it’s a minefield trying to get to work in the morning without stepping in horse poop.

        • torontothegreat

          Good point

  • Glenn Storey

    “where do police horses come from? well, when a girl police horse and a boy police horse really, really love each other……..

    • OgtheDIm

      Madly sings : “The wheels on the bus go round and round..”

  • WN

    C’mon, leave his name as Tetris! That’s an awesome name!

  • neigh-sayer

    This, friends, is “gravy” at its finest. What’s the cost to taxpayers I wonder for maintaining these animals, the building they reside in and the staff to support them?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513128009 Gordon Yarley

      This is not gravy. It’s essential for capturing criminals.

      From a wiki:

      “here are a number of advantages for the mounted police officer. The
      height gives them better vision over crowds so they can see what is
      going on much better than an officer on foot. A large horse bearing down
      on you at a determined trot can be very intimidating to a lot of people
      so they tend to behave better and if they don’t the horses can be used
      to ‘push’ a crowd around.

      Another advantage is that horses are
      faster than people and can go where a car and often a motorbike can’t
      (bikes can’t jump a fence with out a ramp for instance) and last but
      certainly not least they are great for public relations, people love the
      horses.”

      • Glenn Storey

        seriously? how much jump training do you think toronto’s horse cops get?

        • http://twitter.com/candleflame3 PlantinMoretus

          A lot, probably. They are essentially service animals and on occasion they may have to jump over things. They wouldn’t get the sort of training that a show-jumping horse gets. Their training would be more about not being afraid of unfamiliar objects, agility and so on.
          Oh, and the cops get the training too.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        Essential? How many arrests are made each year by cops on horses here? I’d be surprised if it’s higher than 0%.

        No, they’re useful in certain circumstances, not day-to-day patrolling or typical arrests.

        • Tristan

          Amazingly, studies have shown it is possible to briefly get off a horse if one needs to do something else.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            That doesn’t make the horse essential, as claimed above.

    • vampchick21

      *Picard facepalm*

    • torontothegreat

      Cars are still more expensive, yet you’re not complaining about them being gravy.

      • vampchick21

        Cause horses are part of the war on the car! :)

      • Testu

        To be fair, cars are a legitimate part of a modern police force. Horses are for “crowd control” and people who long for the return of the 19th century.

        As far as crowd control goes, how many horses did you see in action during the G20? Far more controlling of the crowds was accomplished by officers on foot in riot gear.

        Also, as a resident of South Parkdale, I can comfortably say that there are far fewer police cars shitting on the street in front of the bus and streetcar stops than horses.

        • torontothegreat

          Car shit is just invisible vapour and far more harmful

          • Testu

            And yet I’m far more willing to deal with it, living in the city, than horse shit.

            And unless they’re planning on transitioning to an all mounted force for ecological reasons, the horses are still a giant waste of money for a department that was crying poor at the last budget negotiations.

          • vampchick21

            Given what I’ve seen in city streets, horse shit is the least of your worries.

          • Testu

            Well, yeah, it’s Parkdale after all. The horse shit isn’t improving things any though, and the fact that it’s being placed there by what are considered police officers is just adding insult to injury.

            Nothing like the aroma of horse excrement in the 30 degree heat while you wait for the 504.

          • vampchick21

            Touche. :) Although I wait for the 501 at Queen & Brock and thankfully no horse shit. Just the interesting scent of the wildlife in front of the library. (and petrified pizza slices falling out of the tree. Still don’t know.)

          • torontothegreat

            Obvious part of the problem is obvious

          • angryhero1

            Not true… Horse shit is more harmful. It killed a ton of people, and caused a lot of problems with shit getting into the water supply and filling the streets. I think you are discounting the problems of horses being a non issue in large numbers.

  • bloke

    At the corner of Queen and Cowan in Parkdale, is a building, that at one time, was no 6 police station. My father rode horses from there before second world war. He had joined the police force, after serving with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. After the war, my parents bought a house on Melbourne Ave, and as a child, my father and I would walk up to no6, and get a bag of manure for his garden. My first experience of riding a horse, was when my father put me on top of one when I was 5.
    I do remember, that when the horses did their business, people would rush out of their homes and scoop up the manure, let it sit for a period of time and use it for their gardens. vegetable and flowers.

  • Baciandrio

    Would love to know where their horses go when retired. Although not in need of a horse at the moment (I have my own) would certainly look at a retired police horse in future light riding and of course, to love~

    • Trollzilla

      British burgers…mmmmmmm

  • Jennifer from Peterborough

    Wine, wine, wine. Police horses are needed. Deal with it. As for the poop, this is where convicts can re-pay society, get out and do your community hours. As for finding a great horse for a great price, look around the horse racing community. Horse racing is being screwed over and these poor horses are being slaugthered. Just go to any horse tack shop and they can give you a number of farms and amazing people rescuing these horses and re-training them to have any number of jobs. Trust me, I have spent some time helping with re-training these horses that are full of love and are more than willing to be re-trained for whatever displine needed. Starting costs, $500.00.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Smith/517957122 Ryan Smith

      I find it amusing that horse racing is being “screwed over” but that the public wasn’t being “screwed over” to subsidize horse breeders and racetracks.

    • Gary

      “Wine, wine, wine?” Yeah, I could use a drink, too. Do you think the horses prefer red or white?

  • Jennifer from Peterborough
  • Lavender

    I love horses and I don’t have a problem with cops in general. But cops on horses? Totally useless, and I can’t understand for the life of me why we need huge piles of horse shit on our streets. It’s disgusting and embarrassing.

  • Hunky69

    ..and where they end up? On your plate…watch out!

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    Great piece of information shared in this blog! Show Jumpers For Sale

  • levia jack

    Charming article to post
    Ponies for sale

  • gkadar

    “It doesn’t take much for me to transmit to this thing that there’s a problem.”
    ??? A horse is a ‘thing’?

  • tabathaw93

    nl3f – Recently i would be lacking in money and debts were killing me from all sides!! That was RIGHT UNTIL i decided to earn money on the internet. I visited surveymoneymaker period net, and started doing surveys for straight cash, and really, I’ve been greatly more able to pay my bills! I am happy i did this.. UjmY

  • Gordon Yarley

    Holy cow you replied to a comment from February? Just utterly bizarre. Whatever troll.