A fresh group of boys and girls in blue is hot to trot.
On June 7, the New York Police Department’s Remount School of Horsemanship will swear in a new class of mounted officers. For three months, the urban cowboys have undergone intensive training to learn the high-level riding skills needed to patrol some of NYC’s most chaotic areas, including Midtown, Tremont in The Bronx and Coney Island.
But first, they had to learn how to ride, period.
“Most of the officers in our unit started out with no riding experience,” Deputy Inspector Barry Gelbman, who heads up the NYPD Mounted Unit, told The Post. And he prefers it that way: “We have to teach them in our style of riding, which is a combination of traditional cavalry riding” — how the Army rode back in the days of horseback battles — “and modern equestrian style.” It’s easier for the instructors to work with a blank slate.
Any officer who’s been in the force for three years can apply to the mounted unit. But only those with “excellent” records are considered, Gelbman said. This year, some 40 candidates applied to The Bronx’s Troop D mounted unit, one of NYC’s four troops; nine made the cut. (There are around 70 mounted officers in the city, total.)
Among them is Jenique Scott-Cooper, 28.
“I’d only done a few trail rides growing up,” the Westchester native told The Post at Troop D’s Pelham Bay Park training facilities. “But I was on [street] patrol a few years ago by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and walked by a mounted officer, and the little kid in me came out,” she said of her motivation. “I was like, ‘Horsie!’ ”
Gelbman said there’s one more vital quality required to deal with horses as well as civilians: “patience.” “You wouldn’t believe how many people need to find the M&M store,” he added.
Likability also matters. “They’re the visible representation of the NYPD,” Detective William Staszeski, the senior instructor at the Mounted Unit, told The Post. “How many times have I seen a person walk by 50 cops — in uniform! — and head straight to a mounted officer to report [something suspicious] or to ask for directions? When people see a horse, it’s like tunnel vision.”
That’s true for criminals, too. “When there’s a spike in crime in a neighborhood, we send mounted officers,” Sgt. Kevin Brady, one of the Mounted Unit’s supervisors, told The Post. “It’s been shown that when mounted units move in, crime rates go down.” He thinks his own equine partner, Braveheart, helps him command more respect than he would on foot. “People always listen to you when you’re on a horse,” he explained. “There’s an intimidation factor.”
It’s something that mountie hopefuls work hard to earn. First, they take a physical fitness test, which consists of a brisk run and intense calisthenics. Those who pass — and it’s not uncommon for students to drop out at this point — advance to the demanding 12-week training program.
It could be up to a year until students are assigned a steed of their own. “They ‘ride the barn’ first, meaning practice on different horses. It makes them better riders overall,” Brady explained. Still, trainees inevitably pick favorites — Scott-Cooper’s is a handsome brown gelding named Henry — and instructors take those bonds into consideration when matching humans and horses.
It’s also important for students to bond with their animals. Officers learn how to brush coats, pick hooves, trim manes to the NYPD’s strict 6-inch specification and muck stalls. They’re also instructed to look out for common medical illnesses — such as colic, which can be fatal in horses — and practice hauling a 400-pound horse mannequin onto a stretcher in case their furry partner is ever injured too badly to stand.
“It’s not like the K9 unit — horses aren’t loyal like dogs,” said Brady. But you can trust them, added Staszeski. “They’ll do anything for you, as long as you know how to ask them.”
To learn how, candidates spend about three or four hours in the saddle a day, mastering moves such as the seated trot and cantering. After four weeks, the gritty work begins. They ride out to quiet blocks to see how horses react to the mainstays of New York City streets: pedestrians, cars, loud noises and litter.
At the Pelham Bay Park stables, instructors even subject riders to “nuisance training,” a series of obstacles designed to freak horses out — and to teach riders how to stay calm. Among them: a fog machine, the wiggly inflatable tubes often planted outside car dealerships, barrels swinging from tree branches that lightly bump the horses, bags of clinking recycling and a supersize umbrella.
Scott-Cooper, for one, can’t wait to wear her spurs out on the streets. “I’ll get to ride all day, every day,” she said. “It’s like a dream.”
And if you ask Brady, that magic never dies.
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