Mounted Unit hoofs it over to Hudson River Park


By Ashley Winchester

Officer Ronald Saverese and his partner have worked together for the past six years. Not surprisingly, they’ve formed a close relationship.

“Maverick and I are going steady,” Saverese joked as he unsaddled his mount. “I’m with him eight hours a day. He knows when I’m around. Then again, everyone does.”

Fellow “mounties” recognize the pair as a stocky, smiley, 50-something-year-old police officer and his 1,200-pound, 16-year-old, bay thoroughbred. Maverick is one of 20 horses assigned to the Mounted Police Unit headquarters, Troop B, which temporarily relocated last month to Pier 63, in the Hudson River Park, just north of Chelsea Piers.

The troop, formerly located on 42nd St., is one of five active Mounted Police Units in the city. About two years ago, when their lease on the Midtown stable ran out, the unit was in danger of closing. A citywide search for a new headquarters found the former location of the Chelsea Equestrian Center, beneath Basketball City. The location has 25 box stalls for horses, a 50’-x-100’ indoor riding ring and space for equipment, feed, offices and turnout — an area for the horses to move about freely.

“The landlord wanted to develop the lot, so we were asked to leave,” Mounted Captain Christopher Acerbo said. “Although we’re well received by the public, there aren’t many people that will tolerate the activity or the smell of a stable in their neighborhood. This location is ideal because it’s on land owned by the city, so there’s no danger of being kicked out; there’s good parking, it’s not residentially zoned, and it’s central to Midtown and Madison Square Garden. The basic framework was there.”

The Mounted Unit plans to stay at Pier 63 at least through September 2004, when the Republican National Convention comes to Madison Square Garden. They may stay at the Hudson River Park location longer, though, depending how things work out.

While the age of carriages and cobblestones has been replaced by cars and asphalt, the Mounted Police has hardly become obsolete. These days, the Mounted Unit is used primarily for patrol, presence and crowd control, as well as the occasional ceremony such as a parade or funeral. In addition, the Mounted Unit employs three full-time farriers, several civilians as stable hands and grooms and one officer trained in leatherworking, who makes and repairs all saddles, bridles and other tack used by the force.

The Mounted Police Unit relies on donations of money and horses, and has a $100,000 yearly fund managed by the New York City Police Foundation to purchase animals and equipment. About 15 new horses per year are added to the unit, and are generally named after their donors or, more recently, after officers killed in the line of duty. In the Pier 63 stable’s Sept. 30 grand opening ceremony, eight new horses were sworn in.

Having settled in at the new stable, the unit is currently undergoing a major recruitment drive, with a goal of having a total of 100 horses and 100 officers assigned to the city’s Mounted Units — which represents an increase of 10 officers and horses each — by the time of the Republican Convention.

“This is a very desirable unit,” Acerbo said. Acerbo transferred to Mounted three years ago from the 19th Precinct to become the commanding officer of the city’s five active Mounted Police Units. He and his 10-year-old thoroughbred, Richie Rich, have been inseparable ever since. “It’s seen as glamorous, but it’s really no different from being in a car. Our number-one duty is patrol, and we are bombarded by requests for patrols.”

Becoming a member of New York’s Mounted Police isn’t easy, however. Interested officers are usually attracted to the uniform (horse-riding boots and breeches) or the omnipresence that a mounted officer exudes. The application process requires that an officer must have been in the police force for at least five years, be in good physical condition and complete a three-day training course that “weeds out” about a third of the applicants.

“If we put in 30 applicants, about 10 see what it’s really about and say, ‘No way’ after the three-day program,” Acerbo said. “Many are not familiar with horses when they start.”

After proving their interest, applicants move on to an intensive, 12-week training program at Troop D’s Bronx stables. This season’s graduates will be sworn into the force in a Nov. 19 ceremony at the Pier 63 headquarters. After making the unit, initiates “ride the barn,” learning the intricacies of every horse before being assigned a permanent partner.

Officer Saverese, who has been a member of the Mounted Police for 19 years, was attracted to the idea at an early age.

“It was 1954 and I was eight and riding on a carousel in Prospect Park,” Saverese recalled. “I met an officer, Barney Devine, and said, ‘Wow.’ It was kind of like a dream…. To have power just with eyes and voice, not with sticks and bats, to be approached by everyone — the way everyone in the unit works as a choreographed group, it’s wild.

“What we do in life we all choose, and I am blessed,” Saverese said. “Every day is interesting, awesome. It’s a thrill every day.”