I don’t know about you, but seeing a mounted police officer directing traffic outside of Saratoga Race Course or holding court along Broadway in the summer is something that could easily make my day—anyone’s for that matter. So, when Saratoga Living approached me about doing its next “Ride Along,” with a Saratoga Springs Mounted Patrol unit officer, my first reaction was, “Of course! I’m a rider myself.”
But I really didn’t know what exactly mounted police officers do. Could they make arrests just like their car-bound colleagues? Did they wield the same power as a Canadian Mountie? Or were they an elaborate PR stunt for the police department in a horse town?
It turns out that Saratoga’s mounted officers are, in fact, sworn officers of the law, who can make arrests, although, logistically, it’s difficult to do so on horseback. The mounted unit is used particularly for crowd control, and being on horseback gives officers a unique vantage point for spotting potential trouble before it happens—that an officer on foot might not be able to see. The unit consists of five officers, who, when not riding a horse, are either on foot or in a patrol car. The police rent stable space for their horses from a private horse owner on Ruggles Road in Saratoga—but they’ve been on the lookout for a permanent home where they can someday host public tours, educational activities and training sessions for other mounted patrol units.
Now, because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic—and mounted police officers don’t really have a “set” schedule—I wasn’t able to ride along on an actual police horse. But I was invited to the unit’s stables and barn for a personal introduction to horses King Tut and Apollo.
Meeting Officer Barrett • 11am
The first thing I did upon meeting Officer Glenn Barrett was offer him my hand to shake, which he abruptly, and rightfully, declined. Admittedly, it’s been months since I’ve reported a story in person, and it was a reminder of how COVID-19 has changed things. Officer Barrett slid open the back barn door and explained to me that King Tut, a gigantic, 20-year-old Percheron—a breed of draft horse—was rescued by a family in Utica, who later donated him to the Saratoga Springs Mounted Patrol unit. Apollo, on the other hand, is a retired Standardbred racehorse, thriving in a second career.
Snack Time • 11:15am
Off-duty officer Caitlin Freshwater arrives with five pounds of carrots. The five officers in the unit share daily responsibilities for feeding, watering and caring for the two horses. The officers have specific shifts, but the horses don’t follow set schedules. King Tut and Apollo might start with an officer when the 4pm shift begins, or they might not be called on until hours later. They might work twice in the same day or have a few days off in between. The decision to deploy a mounted officer depends on the time of year, types of activities going on in town and crowd sizes.
TLC Time • 11:30am
Care for the animals is a priority. Both horses’ hooves are painted with a conditioning polish for protection. The officers have a full traveling medical kit should the horses need treatment while on duty. The horses are groomed, saddled at the barn and loaded into a trailer when duty calls. Hay, grain and water are packed for breaks.
A Moment’s Notice • 12pm
The horses have ample time to rest in between shifts, so they are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Every shift is different. Officers pick a starting point based on reports from the day and the need. This spring, patrols were sent along city streets and neighborhoods to bring joy to local residents who had been stuck at home due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. During recent trips, kids have exchanged “air high-fives” with officers, and an elderly resident told Officer Freshwater that seeing her and the horses was the first time she’d seen anyone in two weeks.
Best Thing I Saw: Even though King Tut and Apollo have an important job to do, they are spoiled just like my own horse, Bella, is. They enjoy plenty of treats and frequent visits from the officers to make sure they are healthy and happy.
Worst Thing I Saw: Nothing. These beautiful horses are probably the best PR the police force could ask for, especially when stopping traffic on Broadway so Saratoga’s other beloved summertime animals, the ducks, can safely cross.
The Bottom Line: Even though most of the mounted police officers had never ridden a horse before joining the unit, one thing was apparent: They’ve all come to love the animals. How couldn’t they?