Cops and horses convene at Carousel ParkDec 31, 2014 10:39AM ● By Kerigan Butt
(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Winter 2014 edition.)
By Nancy Johnson
It took months of hard work and preparation – the grounds were immaculate, the horses and barns spotless, the indoor and outdoor riding arenas refurbished, the cross-county riding trails groomed, and the temporary stalls set up. But when more than 80 mounted policemen and women from 22 agencies across 12 states and Canada arrived at New Castle County’s Carousel Park, all the work was worthwhile.
New Castle County’s Mounted Patrol hosted the 2014 North American Police Equestrian Championships (NAPEC), an annual highlight for these police officers.
“It takes a lot of work to put it all together, but I am really glad we volunteered to host the event this year,” said New Castle County Mounted Patrol officer Eric Selhorst with a big smile. “This is a great competition and everyone looks forward to it. The last time it was held here was in 2001, so it was definitely our turn.”
Officer Bill Brown was thrilled with how well it was received. “This is definitely one of the best competitions in years,” he said. “We have gotten such great feedback from everyone.”
He discussed the obstacle course, which was the focus on Sunday. “As hosts, we are in charge of designing the course,” he explained. “The idea is to simulate things we might see while working. For example, the big ball is something we use as a training tool for crowd control. The idea is that the horse pushes against it with his chest.”
Brown added that the members of the Mounted Patrol worked together to ensure the event was a success. Not only did they design and build the challenging obstacle course, but they also selected judges for all the classes. Retired mounted police officers were a perfect choice as judges.
About halfway through the obstacle course class on Sunday, Senior Sargent Mary Devine said, “It’s going extremely well. Everyone is raving about the facility and how well we prepared. Remember, we’re just a bunch of cops who ride horses – we are police officers first,” she said, chuckling.
“It’s great that we have so many spectators, but I am not surprised. The local population loves our mounted unit," she added. "They come out in droves to see anything we do.” The total number of spectators for the two-day competition was more than 8,000.
Devine described the various competitions. The uniform competition is “military old guard.” Officers are judged on their uniforms and how their horses are groomed. “It is very precise -- the judges even get out a ruler and measure the distance between pins," she said.
Also held on Saturday, in both the outdoor and indoor arenas, were equitation classes. Divided into three sections -- Novice, Expert and Western riders -- the officers each rode a pattern at a walk, trot, and canter, demonstrating their ability and control.
“We created everything for the obstacle course and then we rode it ourselves to make sure it was all OK," Devine said. "We had to make a change at the last minute because one of our obstacles just wasn’t working out in practice. It was a bit shaky, and the last thing we would want would be for an officer or a horse to be injured.”
She gestured to the various obstacles and described what each simulated. “The horses are to push the big ball with their chest – it's the way we move a crowd on horseback," she said. Another obstacle is designed like a car stop. The officer dismounts and puts a ticket on the window and then remounts. “Not so easy when your horse is, like, 19 hands," Devine said. Many police horses are large breeds, like Percheron or the Clydesdales favored by NCC.
In the barrel exercise, the rider picks up a barrel, which has a loud cow bell in it, and carries it through a pathway of rails on the ground and deposits it in a specific spot where a small mechanical toy weasel is running around. Two clowns in a carnival booth make up another obstacle. The officer rides up next to them in the booth and has his horse stand in a marked spot while the one clown blows up a balloon until it pops.
A very realistic simulation of a disabled car stop requires the horse to stand within a specific area, outlined by chalk markings, while a fire extinguisher is discharged near its feet. The water obstacle proved difficult for many, as it involved walking on a narrow wooden bridge, into dark water and onto the bridge again.
A banquet at the Christiana Hilton, where a perpetual trophy is presented to the highest scoring officer overall, concluded the weekend. “You only get bragging rights for one year,” Devine said.
Last year's winner, Greg John from the Toronto Mounted Unit, swept all three divisions – uniform, equitation, and obstacles -- a hard feat to equal. He did not compete this year, but watched his fellow officers do so. One of them rode the horse that John rode to top honors in 2013.
“We’ve really set the bar,” Devine said. “The footing in the arenas, the judges, and the 215-acre park itself – it will be hard to top.”
Greg Bruno, one of newest of the six officers in the New Castle County unit, enjoyed introducing families to the horses in the courtyard area of Carousel Park’s stable. “I have learned so much about riding and horses. It’s been amazing,” he said.
Bruno pointed out Tonka, the very easygoing Clydesdale he started on. He then progressed to Mick, and currently rides Royal, another Clydesdale. “I have a bond with all of them. Each has its own personality,” he said as he patted Royal.
Although he would have loved to compete, Bruno explained, “As hosting unit we don’t think it is fair to compete. That’s OK because it’s been great working as a unit to get everything prepared to make this a really good event for the other officers and the public.”
For Katie Swarthout, an officer with U.S. Park Police in the Mounted Patrol Unit, Carousel Park is a different world from Washington, D.C. The horses in her unit, six of which were competing at the 2014 NAPEC, are stabled right on the mall in downtown Washington. The location is ideal for proximity to the White House, as well as numerous memorials and monuments.
Swarthout explained that a big responsibility of their mounted unit is to monitor demonstrations and “make sure everyone plays nice.”
Competing with her flashy chestnut Thoroughbred, A.J., in all three classes at Carousel Park, she was pleased with her eighth-place finish in Uniform and ninth-place finish in Expert Equitation. However, she was most excited about her fellow officer, Rebecca Murphy, a first-time competitor, winning the Expert Equitation class.
“This venue is amazing and the crowd it has drawn is fantastic. In my opinion, horse mounted units are the best PR for police,” Swarthout said. “No one asks to pet a cop’s motorcycle, but everybody loves our horses!”