Hampton Beach Mounted Patrol Unit

Supported by the Community

By Mike Bisceglia

Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene]
[Hampton's Mounted Police, left to right:]
Deputy Chief Dennis Pelletier on PEACOCK, PTL. Joseph Galvin on MAGIC,
PTL. Andrew Annicelli on SUNDANCE, PTL. Lee Griffin on SCOUT
& Sgt. John Galvin on RASTA.
[Photo by Budd Perry Memories Studio]

HAMPTON -- You know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, et al, right? How about Commander, Blaze, Sundance, and Scout? No? You probably would if you frequented Hampton Beach since 1981. They're four of the 15 Tennessee Walking horses, which have comprised the Hampton Beach Mounted Patrol Unit (HBMPU).

Pelletier may have been the absolutely perfect choice for a person to head the Hampton Mounties. Exeter-born, Dennis spent much of his youth on his uncle's ranch in Missouri learning about life in the saddle.

"The Unit came about as a result of need," said Dennis Pelletier, retired Deputy Chief of the Hampton Police Department. "Officer John Galvin and I knew of the devastation caused in the Labor Day riots of the 1960's, and we were certain that a police presence on horseback would be a great deterrent to such an event happening again. We presented the idea to Police Chief Robert Mark. He supported the idea from the very onset. As it turned out, we needed the approval of quite a few people, but everyone was supportive of the idea."

"There were no additional taxes, "Pelletier added. "We needed to raise $20,000 to purchase the horses and necessary equipment. Any additional money that we raised went into a fund to pay for any medical expenses the horses might incur."

Once the HBMPU became a reality, the designated officers fell in love with their new responsibilities. The officers would train and work the horses without extra pay. They even financed their own riding lessons. Further, none of the mounted policemen received special pay or work allowances.

After horses and riders were matched and received their basic training, they received further extensive spring training just before the onset of the Hampton Beach summer season.

"Essentially, it was just like a major league baseball club training before the actual season begins. The horses and riders knew what to do in just about every situation," said Pelletier, "but they just needed a refresher course to fine tune the skills they already possessed."

The tune up program was intense to say the least. The idea was to make these gentle giants "bomb proof." The term didn't mean to literally make the horses impervious to explosives. It meant that at the completion of the training, these horses weren't fazed by horns, fireworks, sirens, or screaming. Essentially, they were professional horses to be ridden by professional policemen.

In addition to the training, the horses have received some very special care. Local horse enthusiast, Amanda Larivee has been working with horses since she was ten. About working with the Mounted Patrol, she said, "I loved it. They paid me to do something I loved."

Ellen McDermott, daughter of Judge McDermott, was a groom at the stable. It was her job to keep the horses groomed and the gear in top, functional condition. She, too, found great satisfaction in caring for the Patrol's horses.

The horses, raised in the southern states, weigh up to 1,500 pounds and stand about five-and-a-half feet at the shoulders. The Tennessee Walking horses have a smooth gait, a rocking chair gait, which make them nearly perfect for police use. "If you're going to be on a saddle for an eight-hour shift," said Pelletier, with a chuckle, "you don't need to have your insides juggled as you ride. When you're on one of these horses, there is very little movement. The policeman is essentially one with the horse."

Although the love affair between the Hampton community and the HBMPU began almost immediately, it was obvious that keeping this special entity financed was essential. In 1985, the Friends of the Mounted Patrol was formed. It was a non-profit organization comprised of local businessmen and other supporters of the police department concerned with raising additional funds, above any designated tax monies to purchase items essential to the Unit. One such purchase was a horse trailer to transport horses and equipment to events in the community and in the region.

"Some very influential people got behind the Unit and really worked to help us to have a first class operation," said Pelletier. Some very influential people indeed. A sampling included: Bob Preston, Senator; Gardiner Macintosh, beach resident; Victor Lessard, Town Selectman; and Phil Richards, Town Manager.

Since 1981, the motto of the HBMPU has been, "Serving the community, supported by the community."

Pelletier may have been the absolutely perfect choice for a person to head the Hampton Mounties. Exeter-born, Dennis spent much of his youth on his uncle's ranch in Missouri learning about life in the saddle. Retiring from the Force in 1995, he maintains the look of a veteran lawman, right down to his ever-present Stetson and western-cut vest.

"Back in 1981, my thought for the Unit was much the same as it is today. The HBMPU is the perfect beach police tool in so many ways. From their position on their mounts, the patrolmen have wonderful visibility. From that additional elevation, they can easily spot trouble brewing or help to locate a lost child."

"They can go places that a car, motorcycle, or ATV can't go, and they can be very imposing. These horses may take a lot of abuse, but they certainly make potential wrong-doers turn tail when the horses are headed in their direction."

Pelletier not only headed the HBMPU, he felt a certain kinship with his brother officers who chose the saddle over the cruiser. Moreover, Pelletier, when some of the animals were old enough to retire, sheltered them on his property.

"I've buried some of the animals on my land when they passed on," Pelletier said, his voice catching as he spoke. "They were great and dedicated animals, and they deserved every courtesy we could give them. Pelletier has placed a stone marker bearing the name of each deceased horse over the each grave. Each of these gestures was at no cost to the city.

A huge bonus in the 29-year success of the Unit is the public relations factor. It is a perfect side benefit to the fine police work done by the mounted officers. To begin, kids love horses, and they will quickly flock to a mounted patrolman to pet the animal. "It is an irony," said Pelletier, "The horses are in their element at dispersing large, hostile crowds, yet they can very quickly attract some smaller, happy ones. Frankly, each and every officer would rather see the smiling faces of enthusiastic parents and children, anytime."

Pelletier chuckled, while remembering a personal anecdote.

"I was sitting on my horse at the beach. There was quite a group of happy faces around me, just enjoying the moment. All of a sudden, a lady about 20-feet away began to scream. When I asked her problem, she wailed, "My 3 year-old is swinging from your horse's tail. I looked behind Commander (the horse), and sure enough the kid was using the horse's tail as a Tarzan swing. When I asked her to come and retrieve her child, she said she couldn't. She was afraid the horse would kick her. I assured her the horse wouldn't kick her or her child, but to please come and take the boy from my mount. She did."

"On another occasion, I had to dismount, tether Commander, and handle a situation on the beach. When I returned to the spot I had left the animal, he was gone. I called local motorcycle units to be on the lookout. In moments, I got a call back to go with them to retrieve my mount. He was about one half-mile from where I tethered him, only this time he had a drunk draped around his neck. The drunk slurred how much he loved the animal and that I couldn't have it back. I told him that I would take very good care of the animal, and I asked him if I could assist him into the front door of his house. He thought that was a great idea. He went inside and promptly fell asleep there in the livingroom."

In addition to being bomb proof, the horses must exhibit other positive traits in order to be chosen as a police mount. They mustn't have any nasty habits, and demonstrate their loyalty and dependability.

The schedule of mounted patrolman is quite rigorous. Morning hours are generally devoted to public relations with children and families in the beach area. The late-morning-early afternoon hours are given over to keeping gathering crowds moving, while assisting with the flow of vehicular traffic. In the evening hours, the mounted patrol work to keep altercations from occurring, and to assist stumblers on their journeys home.

"These horses are the finest in the area," said Captain Mike Raiche, of the Dover Mounted Police Unit. "They are first class. You wouldn't believe how sure-footed they are on the beach. They can quietly walk between all those bodies without stepping on a toe or the edge of a blanket. And, if people are sipping on beers or doing something they shouldn't, the officer can be right behind them before they notice their presence."

There is no Hampton Police stable, but over the years the horses have been maintained regionally at the Tide Water Campground, just south of the town. Camp owner, Wally Shaw, was only too thrilled to help build a shelter for the animals and to help care for them. In recent days, however, the horses have been moved to Runnymeade Farm in North Hampton.

Members of the Hampton Police Force agree that a horse is worth 10 men in severe crowd control. Peletier said, "With properly-trained police horse, the once severe problems of this recreation community are so easily handled."

In addition to their beach duties, the horses of the HBMPU are very much a part of the seacoast region. Certainly, they have become synonymous with the Hampton Beach summer scene, but their stately grace and imposing elegance have had them much in demand for many other functions. They have participated in the Christmas, St. Patrick's Day and Memorial Day parades, funerals and school events. They have provided escort for President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. On a heavier note, they were used as a vital tool used to squelch the 2003 riots at the University of New Hampshire.

Only Manchester and Dover can boast of having the other mounted units in the state of New Hampshire.

Why should horses be utilized at Hampton Beach? "The answers are many and varied," said Pelletier. "A horse can traverse the sand at 30 to 35 miles an hour. As a form of public relations, the height of the officer on horseback makes him readily visible to vacationers who might have a problem or need a question answered. They are cost-effective, when you think that a mounted officer, on a good horse, can take the place of 10 officers on foot or aboard other forms of transport. They are simply a quiet positive presence on the shore."

Having mounted patrols is not a new concept. The practice dates back to England in 1760. Then, mounted patrols dealt with highway robbers in and about the urban regions of the country.

In recent years, however, the number of mounted units across the United States, has dwindled to approximately 100, or just one-fourth the number of units in existence a decade ago. The primary reason for this reduction in mounted units is primarily fiscal.

Even though, historically, the Hampton Beach Mounted Patrol Unit has been rated one of the finest in the nation, since April of this year the economy has forced the discontinuance of the mounted patrols. "Ideally, I want to have both the police and the mounted patrol," said Police Chief Jamie Sullivan. "This is a difficult decision. They are part of the Hampton Police family. They are our trademark. "It is a question of having boots on the street or horseshoes on the street. I understand that right now having both is not a possibility."

In recent years, the unit has sold merchandise, such as T-shirts, calendars, and post cards at various regional functions in order to maintain the solvency of the Patrol. Local businessmen are currently pursuing other plans for a more methodical fund-raising mechanism.

The fight to save the HBMPU, however, may not be over. In April, local residents collected over 200 signatures on a petition to keep the mounted police unit working. Those signatures were collected in just two days!

"Clearly," said Chief Sullivan, "It is going to take an infusion of dollars to keep the unit viable."

Recently, a number of Hampton businesspeople met with local government officials and members of the Friends of the Hampton Mounted Patrol to find an avenue to reinstate the unit.

"As I see it," said Pelletier, "The beach community is refurbishing and revitalizing. New businesses are going to go up in the block that burned. New buildings on the beach are being readied for visitors to the beach area. The end result of all of the effort put into attracting more visitors is, they will surely come! How sad it will be if we do all we can to attract visitors to our beach area, but don't have the ability we have had with the mounted patrol to protect them."

Those wishing to make donations to the Friends of the Mounted Patrol may make checks to: Hampton Mounted Patrol, P.O. Box 1245, Hampton, NH 03843-1245. Further, additional information and pictures of the HBMPU may be found at the website: http://www.hamptonpd.com/mounted/mounted.htm.
and also at the Lane Memorial Library's website: Hampton, New Hampshire, Police Department and Crime Stories -- History, Photographs, and News Stories

For the record, Commander, Scout, Magic, Rasta, Billy Lee, Sundance, Peacock, Blaze, Senator, Chico, Sergeant, Sam, Buddy, Patriot and Arrow are the names of all of the horses that have seen service in the Hampton Beach Mounted Patrol Unit. Dennis Peletier could name them all . . . from memory.

Once the HBMPU became a reality, the designated officers fell in love with their new responsibililties. The officers woould train and work the horses without extra pay.
[Courtesy photo]

Since 1981, the motto of the HBMPU has been, "Serving the community, supported by the community."
[Courtesy photo]

Commander and Dennis Pelletier at the State Park.
[Courtesy photo]