Mounted Patrol Unit thrives with training and patience
By Jack Pasi
Hampton Union, July 31, 2015
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Hampton Police Mounted Patrol Officers John and Joe Galvin riding on horses Bolt and Butch respectively, stop for a group of young ladies wishing to pet the horses while on patrol at Hampton Beach. [Rich Beauchesne photo]
HAMPTON — Brothers Joe and John Galvin have more than 65 years combined police work under their belts in town. They love the force so much that even when they retired, they decided to continue on part time with the Hampton Police Mounted Patrol Unit.
The unit has been a part of the department dating back to 1981, the same time John Galvin joined the force.
“Originally they (horses) were brought in for crowd control, to get around the beach more easily,” John said. “We didn’t even have motorcycles back then; we had small mini-bikes we used. It was tough to get around the beach. So (then-Deputy Chief) Dennis Pelletier came up with the idea to start a mounted patrol.”
Pelletier established the unit with the support of the department and many community members, who helped raise over $25,000.
That money bought four horses, paid the boarding fees for a year, paid the veterinarian and blacksmith bills, and bought the expensive riding gear, including breeches, boots, saddles and helmets.
Today, the unit includes two male Tennessee Walking Horses, Butch, 15, who started when he was 9, and Bolt, 9, who started when he was 7.
John said the horses are effective at patrolling the sandy beaches, getting through traffic, and managing large crowds as they are not easily scared.
“Half the time were out down on the beach by the water, the other half were on (Ocean) Boulevard or the side streets,” John said. “We go anywhere from Rocky Bend to the State Park.”
The horses come from a breeder in Tennessee or Kentucky, according to the officers.
“We like to get them a little older, too. We don’t like 1- or 2-year-old (horses),” Joe said. “We try to get them at 8 or 9 years old, so they’re a little more mature and can tolerate more.”
Once the department receives a horse, it must undergo training to see if it’s a good fit for the job.
“They do a nuisance training, they call it bomb-proofing training,” John said. “They have to be subjected to anything they see here at the beach, like fireworks, loud noises, sirens, umbrellas, balloons, flags, any of that stuff will bother a horse. The first thing they do when they get nervous is they run. They have to learn to get used to that stuff, be calm and trust their rider so they’re not stepping or running over anybody."
Training varies from horse to horse; some can be trained within a few weeks, according to John. Others can take all summer before they calm down and get used to their surroundings.
The horses are trained on and off through out the year, according to John. They conduct a little training in the winter and then pick it up come springtime so that they’re ready for the summer.
The Galvin brothers do the training along with Dennis Pelletier, who has 40 years experience training police horses.
Not all the horses are cut out for the job.
“We’ve had ones that didn’t work out that never saw patrol because they’re just too skittish,” Joe said. “They just couldn’t deal with all the nuisances that were thrown at them.”
“He (the breeder) will give us another one,” John said. “He’s usually pretty good about that if it doesn’t work out. We’ll call him and he’ll drive up from Kentucky with another one. We usually buy the second one, I don’t think we’ve had to go back three times.”
If an officer volunteers to become a part of the Mounted Patrol, they also have to undergo training so that they are comfortable patrolling the crowded Hampton Beach.
“Some guys get on there and they’re like, ‘Yeah I’m not doing this,’" Joe said. "Some guys didn’t even get to that point. Usually it takes at least the spring to a couple of months to get them used to it.”
“They kind of have a try out and put a bunch of guys on and see how they do,” John added. “Then they pick someone, give you some lessons, and if it works out they let you ride. We hire a professional riding instructor to teach you how to ride so that takes a bit of time. We’ll take the new guy with us, he won’t ride by himself until he’s comfortable. Usually it’s at least the summer or a couple of summers until he’s able to ride on his own.”
Once the horses and officers pass training, the officer is assigned a horse to ride.
“You get assigned your own horse,” Joe said. “You get attached to the one that you ride. You get used to him, and he gets used to you, and it seems to work out pretty well. They’re not as smart as dogs when you train them, it's all repetition."
The horses know which officer is riding them, according to John.
“They’ll try to do something that they know they shouldn’t be doing if someone else is on him,” John said.
At the end of the day, the horses are brought back to Gaylee Stables in Hampton Falls, where they’re kept on a spacious farm with several acres of grazing area, according to police. A horse groomer/trainer and also the owners of the farm care for the horses.
Once the horses reach their mid-20s, they’re generally retired.
“People like to take them because they don’t have to do anything with them, it’s like a turn key, throw a saddle on them and they don’t have to worry about little kids getting thrown off of it or anything because he’s already trained,” Joe said.
“They just slow down a little bit or may have some minor health issues,” Joe said. “That might affect them from us riding them 40 hours a week.”
Aside from their regular patrols, the horses are used for parades, police funerals, and have competed in regional mounted patrol competitions.
“For us and the Police Department, it’s a public relations tool,” Joe said. “We break up some crowds and do arrests occasionally on the beach for people drinking. People really just like to pet them and take pictures. I don’t think they're viewed by the public as being adversarial.”
“We wouldn’t bring them into a burning building or a gun fight. We’ve never really had anything crazy like that,” Joe said. “I suppose if they were in a city they (horses) have exposure to worse things.”