If you have spent time on the beaches at Fort Tilden or Riis, you may have come across Smokey, Sir Lancelot, Keegan or Harper: the four horses that make up the United States Park Police (USPP) Mounted Unit in Jamaica Bay. Believe me, at about 10 ft. tall, they stand out. Recently I was able to spend an afternoon chatting with David Rodriguez, an officer with the unit, as I got to know the horses and learn more about what they do.
Summer in the park is easily the busiest season, and the officers and their horses will spend up to six hours a day patrolling the beaches. Handling disputes between visitors, ensuring dogs are not on the beaches in summer months, and protecting the wildlife (such as the threatened piping plover) in the park are just a few of the things that the USPP Mounted Unit oversees on a day-to-day basis. One of Officer Rodriguez’s favorite aspects of the job is building a relationship with the community. Rodriguez emphasized how important interacting with folks is for the job. Introducing the public to these endearing law enforcement liaisons helps build a connection between Gateway’s law enforcement and the people they serve.
How does a horse go from that typical farm and stable life to the unique role of protecting our National Park lands? Horses come to the agency by donation of generous folks throughout the country. Because horses are skittish creatures by nature, an aspiring USPP Mount goes through about six months to a year of training to see if they can withstand everything from large crowds to loud noises and a whole assortment of unexpected distractions. Only about half the candidates end up making the cut. Illustrating just this, Officer Rodriguez recounted a story of a windy day at Ft. Tilden when a beach umbrella blew directly in the path of one of the horses. While this may perturb an ordinary equine, his mount did not bat an eye (or stomp a hoof for that matter).
At about 24-25 years of age, a USPP horse can expect to hang up their "shield" and retire. Once a horse has left the force, they are either returned to their original owners or given to people who possess the knowledge, skills, and resources to care for them. It came as no surprise when Rodriguez told me that lifelong bonds are formed, and officers will often check in on their old partners to see how their golden years are treating them.
The next time you see Smokey, Sir Lancelot, Keegan, or Harper (and of course their accompanying officers) out on patrol, be sure to say hello. They would love to meet you!BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS