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NYPD Mounted Unit: Meet the horses that patrol NYC’s streets

Meet the city’s so-called “10-foot cops.”

Since 1858, the NYPD Mounted Unit has been patrolling the streets of New York City.

The mission of the Mounted Unit is comprised of five pillars: counter-terrorism, crowd control, traffic control, prevention of street crime and community relations.

“Especially public relations,” said Sgt. Rafael Laskowski, who gave amNewYork a tour of the unit’s Manhattan headquarters. “We always get approached by people, especially kids. Everybody wants to come and pet the horse, they ask their name and their age.”

“We’re very approachable,” added Officer Pamela Bond. “It helps with the community policing a lot,” especially in areas where crime spikes.

While there are plenty of NYPD divisions that deal in counter-terrorism, the mounted unit has one advantage that the others don’t: height.

“We can see far away and we can assess the situation by sitting on the horse,” Laskowski said. “You can have 10 officers standing on the block, but everybody comes to us when they see us.”

Although the unit has 55 horses, only 22 are housed in Manhattan. The rest of our four-legged cops call either Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx home, with headquarters in each of those boroughs.

On Manhattan’s West Side, the horses and their human counterparts enjoy a 26,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that features 27 stalls, an exercise ring and an on-site horseshoer (also known as a farrier).

And believe it or not, the place doesn’t smell all that bad. You would think a stable in the middle of a city would lead to a pretty smelly situation, but according to Laskowski, the facility is equipped with a special HVAC system.

In fact, the headquarters is located on the ground floor of a luxury residential building, and Laskowski said the upstairs neighbors barely smell anything at all.

All smells aside, these horses are also known to have unique personalities. Not every horse, however, is cut out for police work, Laskowski explained. Bringing a skittish horse into the chaotic streets of New York City can be dangerous.

With that in mind, the NYPD goes through a selection and training process – for both horse and officer – to ensure the safety of the city.

Mostly raised in Pennsylvania, the horses don’t begin training for the NYPD until they’re fully grown. Members of the Mounted Unit will pick out around five to six horses at a time, bring them back to the unit’s training facility in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and put them through a week or two of training.

“They’ll take them out into the street to basically see if they’ll be able to work the street with the officer,” explained Laskowski. “If they’re too skittish, they’ll send them back, so sometimes out of five horses they’ll keep two or three.”

The unit’s police officers go through an even more intensive training process, according to Laskowski. And surprisingly, no experience with horses is necessary.

Any officer with at least three years with the department under his or her belt can apply to be part of the Mounted Unit.

“The NYPD wants to train officers in their specific style of riding,” Laskowski explained.

Officers who are chosen for the unit train for five to six hours per day over the course of about five to six months. Aside from training, the officers are also expected to perform basic care for the horses.

“Clean them, feed them; you do basic things on a daily basis,” Laskowski said, so the officers can familiarize themselves with the horses.

After training is complete, the officers get certified.

“That’s when you get your [riding] spurs,” Laskowski said with a grin.

“It’s basically a lot of work, a lot of physical work,” he added. “To me you train every day, even if you’re right here and go out on patrol. You pick up something new on a daily basis.”

After a horse and officer are paired, they almost always stay together unless the officer is sick or injured.

“We can’t keep the horse in the stall for let’s say, three months, six months; we’ll assign the horse to another officer,” Laskowski explained. “But most of the time the horse stays with his officer.”

Officer Pamela Bond said the department tries to pair horses and officers based on similar personalities during training. But before a pairing is made, a new officer to the unit will ride all of the horses in what they call “going around the horn,” so they can get comfortable with all of the different horses and their personalities.

Scroll down to meet five of the NYPD’s horses and learn more about the Manhattan headquarters.

Finbar, the loving teenager

Finbar, a relative newcomer to the unit, is
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

Finbar, a relative newcomer to the unit, is named after the late Sgt. Finbar Devine, who founded the Emerald Society, an organization of Irish officers and firefighters. The horse has been working with the NYPD since 2014, and at 7 years old, he's still considered a bit of a teenager. "He's full of love and life," said Laskowski, who handles Finbar. "He's still learning, but he's a great horse." Although Laskowski said Finbar isn't afraid of much, he's not a huge fan of loud revving motorcycles (but then again, can we blame him?).

Trooper, the jelly bean enthusiast

Trooper, 15, is one of the veterans of
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

Trooper, 15, is one of the veterans of the unit, with 10 years of experience under his saddle. He and his handler, Det. John Reilly, patrol 1,000 acres of Central Park - a responsibility given to the more senior members of the unit. "He's well loved around the neighborhood," Reilly said proudly. "People wait for him to come up West End Avenue, hearing his 'clip clops' in the morning." Reilly described Trooper as smart, perceptive and a goofball who loves to munch on jelly beans.

Torch, the feisty one

A member of the Mounted Unit for five
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

A member of the Mounted Unit for five years, Torch is "feisty," said Officer Pamela Bond, who is his regular handler. "Some horses are more docile, but he's feisty; he's a feisty one," she said. Torch is about 5 years old and though Bond said he'd eat just about anything, he especially loves to snack on carrots and apples.

Madison, the quintessential New Yorker

If you thought this horse was a girl,
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

If you thought this horse was a girl, you thought wrong. Madison is 9 years old and has been with the Mounted Unit for three years. According to his handler, Officer Buyukdag Mehmet, Madison is friendly, but "like a New Yorker" if you mess with him too much, he'll let you know he doesn't like it. Madison especially likes children and is often recruited for school events.

Richmond, the affectionate one

Another veteran of the department, Richmond was described
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

Another veteran of the department, Richmond was described by Officer Joseph Tomeo as very friendly and affectionate. He's about 15 years old and has been with the department since 2008. Richmond loves bananas -- peel and all.

Marcus Martinez, the horseshoer

Having a horseshoer on site allows for the
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

Having a horseshoer on site allows for the department to quickly fix or replace damaged horse shoes. Reilly said the officers regard Martinez' work as similar to a doctor's.

Barney, the Mounted Unit’s mascot

The Mounted Unit's mascot is, surprisingly, a cat.
Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

The Mounted Unit's mascot is, surprisingly, a cat. While touring the facility, we met Barney, the resident stable cat. Barney doesn't just hang with the horses -- he's also known to sleep in the lobby to keep the officer on duty company overnight.

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