The Urban Equine’s Most Hazardous Duty: Police Horses in the Global War on Terror and Crime

New York opens a new stable for Manhattan's finest four-legged officers as police horses around the world trot on the front lines
From New York to Paris and beyond, police horses around the globe answered the call to duty last week as terrorism alerts rose. (Tony Fischer photo)

Crime deterrent or victim? Violence and terrorism fill the news and if you look behind the headlines, you’ll often find an equine connection to stories from Paris to New York and beyond. But more police horses are also being seen by veterinarians for treatment of on-the-job injuries.

The front page was crowded with news on November 18. The world was mourning the lives lost in the Paris terrorist attacks. Politicians were weighing in on the question of Syrian refugees finding a safe haven in the United States. European police hunted two terrorists believed to have survived the Paris attacks that killed 130 people. 

And across the world, police horses woke up and went to work. Did they know that the world was a changed place? Did they feel the tension in the air? Like the men and women who ride them, police horses are trained for this. They hope their training will never be put to use. But they know their job: stay calm. Listen to the officer in the saddle. Know where your feet are. Be aware of your surroundings, but don’t necessarily react to them. Do your job and make it back to your stall safely.

Embassy is one of six police horses confined to his stall after being injured during London’s Million Mask March. (Metropolitan Police photo)

November 18th was a big day for the New York Police Department. The ribbon was cut on the new stables on 53rd Street. Normally, that would have been an interesting human interest story in all the city newspapers and on the evening news.

But this time, the story slipped by the media. A new $30 million stable for 27 horses wasn’t what was on people’s minds. November 18 was the day that a video from ISIL was released; it hinted that a new attack on Manhattan’s Times Square might be on the terrorists’ agenda.

On television news, we could see the horses of the Garde Republicaine, the mounted national police of Paris, patrolling the Champs-Élysées. 

What many people don’t know is that Times Square is like a backyard to New York’s police horses. They patrol there regularly. Just ask Miggs. He was on duty one day in Times Square with Officer Wayne Rhatigan when two street vendors told them about a suspicious car that was smoking.

Miggs and Rhatigan circled the car, smelled gunpowder, and called in the bomb squad. It really was a bomb, but a crudely made one that failed to explode. Miggs and Rhatigan began calmly to clear the crowded square. No one was injured, on a day that might have ended very differently.

It was all in a day’s work for one of New York’s most highly specialized law enforcers. Around the stables, Miggs would become known as the horse who proved he really was “bombproof”.

Not every horse is so lucky. And Miggs’ story could have ended in tragedy instead of triumph.

Around the world, police horses are making the news for their misfortunes. They’re still doing their jobs, but they’re paying a price for it.

In England, authorities are searching for the owner of a drone believed to have been flying around a West Yorkshire police horse turned out in a field. He became agitated, jumped the fence of his paddock, and hit a post. Hardworking equine police officer “Fimber” is dead.

In Melbourne, Australia, a protestor at a “Reclaim Australia” anti-Islamist rally punched a police horse. Police were able to subdue him with pepper spray. He was arrested and charged with animal cruelty.

In Mysore, India, a star police horse died during a torchlight parade that she had attended in previous years without incident. The long-serving mare Prathap had won gold medals in police horse competitions, and represented her unit at dressage and show jumping, as well. She received a funeral with full honors, and is listed as having died in the line of duty. Heart failure is suspected to have been the cause of death.

Also in India, a police horse and his rider were killed by a car in Jaipur; a second police horse was injured in the crash.

In London, a police horse was attacked by a loose dog in Greenwich Park. Good Samaritan David Wilson came to the horse’s aid, but not before the horse was bitten in the chest. Wilson tackled the dog and held it down until the owner could attach a leash. Wilson received the British Horse Society’s Sefton Award for his bravery in service to a horse last month.

But the worse story is what happened to six horses from London’s Metropolitan Police during the “Million Mask” march. The Met’s horses are outfitted in riot gear designed to protect them, primarily on the face, and legs. But several horses were seriously injured in this year’s event, which turned ugly.

The horses were deployed in several key areas in central London: The Mall, Great George Street, Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square. They were supporting 2000 police officers who were on foot.

Embassy was injured near Buckingham Palace when his rider fell from his back. The big gray sustained injuries to his side, hind fetlock and front leg. Embassy’s rider suffered a fractured wrist.

Quartz sustained an injury, probably from glass, to his hind leg. Qwerty was injured in his hind quarters. Heather has a cut on a hind fetlock. Illustrious has an eye problem, possibly caused by a stick. And Quixote injured his front legs.

The Met horses all received veterinary care and are recovering.

On better days, the police horses of the Met and their riders put on a quite a show at public events. Watch this video of them at the Olympia Horse Show. Would your horse do this? Would you?

Police horses should never be taken for granted. Many cities have discontinued their mounted units, while others find them to be as or more valuable than ever before. 

One thing is for certain: these horses live a dangerous life. It’s all part of the job, but it’s not always part of the public’s awareness. There’s not always room on the front page for the horses who just keep doing their jobs.

News shared in this article was researched from reports in the New York Times, The Telegraph (UK), Times of India, Horse and Hound Magazine, the Business Standard of Jaipur, The Age, the Metropolitan Police (London) media unit, and the New York Police Department media service.




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