I’ve had the great privilege in my career to work, on several occasions, with police officers from the Honolulu Mounted Police Department. I have helped to train their officers to ride better and also to train their horses to be more responsive so that they can both do their jobs to the best of their ability. It was always an unusual experience for me, but highly enjoyable, and quite different from any other training I’ve ever done.
The officers had a level of dedication and determination unlike any other riders I’ve trained. Of course they did—they were not in the clinic for fun or personal fulfillment, in fact that was the last thing on their minds. They were very serious and focused on improving their riding and their horse’s training so that they could do their very important job better. And at the back of each officer’s mind is always the fact that their lives may be dependent on how well they ride and how well their horse responds to their requests.
For most of us, owning and riding horses is about fun; but not so with police officers. They take their job very seriously and they constantly train and drill to get better and better. The horses and police officers do crowd control—breaking up drunken brawls in parking lots after football games, keeping unruly protesters in line at demonstrations, patrolling the beaches, intervening in gang wars and the drug trade. In addition to this serious and dangerous work, the mounted unit also does ceremonial work—presiding over the funerals of slain officers, and community service—bringing the horses into the elementary schools with their anti-drug program. The officers and especially their horses are highly respected and loved by the community.
So you can imagine how stunned I was to discover that the current police chief had decided to disband the mounted unit. After years of hard work and dedication, this mounted unit had developed highly trained officers and horses and had made a significant impact on the community. I suppose that is the prerogative of the chief and I am sure he has found a way to justify it with budget cuts, but what I found most appalling was their initial intention to auction off the horses that have served the city and county of Honolulu for the last decade. This move was fuled by the city’s finance department, which has tried to make the horses fit into their regulations for liquidating unwanted equipment and since no other department in the city wanted the horses, the regulations called for public auction.
Most of these horses are in the 18-19 year old range and have slaved hard each and every day to do the bidding of the HPD for the past nine years. Legally, in many jurisdictions, animals used in law enforcement are considered law enforcement officers—if you assault one, you’ll be charged with assault on a police officer. In Hawaii, it seems that these horses are considered property. Still, they’ve served their communities and had full careers.
Police horses are incredibly courageous and trusting—willing to walk into a 200 person drunken brawl—strictly on the assurance from his rider that it will be okay. They have been taught to trust their rider and walk into certain danger when asked. They have been hit, screamed at, had objects thrown at them by unruly citizens and have walked blindly and willingly into dangerous situations on the command of their officers. And now, if the HPS finance people have their way, these horses will wind up in uncertain homes with an undetermined future where, in their twilight years, after years of dedicated service and hard work, they’ll have to start all over in a new career and be left to an undetermined fate.
From what I’ve been told by my inside sources at the police department, many parties lust after these horses. The ropers want them because of their size and training, a trail ride operation wants them to carry tourists down the beach day after day, a therapeutic riding program—yet to be started— thinks they can build a program with these horses, a group wants them to play polo on. These are not therapy, polo, roping or pleasure horses—they’re police horses; and there’s a big difference. They are finely trained and responsive and programmed for a totally different job. While anyone of these groups may be able to make these horses work for their goals, the main question is, don’t these horses deserve a comfortable retirement and the security of knowing they’ll be taken good care of the rest of their days?
Believe it or not, a philanthropic citizen, with an impressive history of doing good deeds, has offered to take these horses to the Big Island of Hawaii and turn them out together on green pasture and take good care of them for the rest of their lives. She has an incredible track record of philanthropic work for humans and animals in the poorest countries. This will cost the HPD absolutely nothing; the HPD hasn’t taken this offer, in spite of the numerous pleas from the police officers and the community. Apparently, the community outrage at the thought of auctioning these horses did make an impact so they agreed not to put them up for public auction but to take applications from people that want the horses instead. Perhaps that will mean there is a little accountability.
But almost all of the applications are from people that want these horses to advance their own personal agendas and in almost every case—except the philanthropist from the Big Island, the horse’s futures would be uncertain—they could end up anywhere with extended careers. And for what? A few thousand dollars maybe? Why not give these horses the dignified and secure retirement they deserve? Doesn’t the police department have an obligation to these horses?
My brother is a police officer, so I understand and highly respect the difficult and dangerous job that they do and I understand the political forces that can affect their abilities to do their jobs. I also understand how devastated these HPD officers are at the disbanding of the program they worked so hard to build and the ultimate insult that the HPD would turn its back on the four-footed partners who gave so much.
I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Disney World in their horse programs and discovered that the WDW company actually funds the retirement of its trail horses after only 5-7 years of packing guests around on trial rides. If a for-profit company can have this kind of sense of responsibility for horses used in recreation, why can’t the HPD? Should we expect less of a police department? It’s not like we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars here—and their retirement would be totally funded by a kind and generous donor. Is there something I’m missing?
It is my sincere hope that the HPD will recognize the value of these animals and the risk they face if their futures are not secured. I know the officers from the disbanded unit are working hard toward this goal and are losing sleep every night with their concern for these regal horses. I hope you will join me in supporting the safe retirement of these horses with your thoughts and prayers and if you want to make a comment on my blog, I’ll make sure all the comments are received by the HPD. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome. Check out the news video, too:
Any word on what’s happening with the horses? I can’t find anything in the news.
The best way for people who wished to voice their concerns would probably be the Mayor. He is a good man who I believe will step up for the right thing. email@example.com
Calvary50, you have said it all in an outstanding way. If the police chief doesn’t “get it” after reading this, I pity him.
Cavalry50, your story brought tears to my eyes. Has the Chief never spent time with the mounted division? Does he not understand what it is his mounted division is asked to do (both human and equine)? The media puts the canine division on a pedestal, yet looks at the mounted division as something “pretty” to be trotted out for parades. These horses deserve the same quality of retirement as their riders and canine counterparts. Send them to the Big Island. They’ve earned it.
WHY DO I CARE SO MUCH ?
It was early on in the police mounted unit forming years when I first heard about Roman Soldiers and their mounts. It was told that the bond and relationship was so close that if the soldier died in battle…the horse was also buried with him. Even at that time, I thought that is was fitting. Sorry…”Kuhio” and “Chief Lee”.
Only after going to work day in and out with a police horse could I begin to really understand the depths of trust and commitment when one “goes to battle.” The great times, sharing all that there is to tell about your horse to the thousands who approach and want to know more about him. Or even just to be quiet so they can take a minute to just smell your horse to bring back old memories.
So, why do I care so much?
It hit home to me one night after I slowed down enough to celebrate a good night’s work by our police horses in a tough environment. Three mounted officers (I was on “Kuhio”, Officer Shay was on “Justice” and Officer Mike was on “Cruiser”) working at the Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. This event is notorious for the fights in the parking lot before, during and after the game.
The game was over and most of the crowd had exited the stadium and were in the parking lot celebrating a win or a loss for their team. We were flagged down by a parking lot security attendant who pointed to the general area of a pole number and related that “there was a huge fight.” We started toward the area which was fairly close. I have to admit as we got to the area…with the view that I had on “Kuhio” that I have never seen such a mass of living, fighting humanity in my whole career. The police horses and the officers never hesitated as we approached the mass. “Kuhio” and “Justice” were taken into the mass which I estimate was at least 200 hundred. We divided and peeled people back from the center where the serious fighters were engaged. “Cruiser” and his officer worked to control all of the would be individuals who were just trying to get back involved. He controlled the majority of the crowd while “Kuhio” and “Justice” were regulated to take care of the remaining fighters who refused to stop. There was a small mass that was punching and tumbling about on the ground, who would not listen to verbal commands from above. I remember getting ahold of a males shirt at the shoulders, lifting him off his feet, shaking him, and telling him from above…”to stop fighting”. You should have seen his face. I stopped, I set him back on the ground and he walked calmly away into the crowd without any more fight in him. I laugh today thinking what he must of thought in his drunken state being lifted off his feet…with a females voice in his ears from above. “Justice” and “Kuhio” continued to stand fast and bravely divide fighters. At one point, I got the impression of a fine stream going past my head which I later found out was Officer Shay deploying O.C spray at the individuals fighting…and at the same time she said..”Sarge, there’s someone underneath your horse… stay still.” I had the chance to glance down and there was a male dazed or drunk out prone underneath “Kuhio.” “Kuhio” stood fast as I asked. They came and collected the dazed/drunk male from the ground. We worked hard and the fight was brought under control without much more incident.
It was this night more than any that has confirmed why I do what I do and why I care so much for what happens to our police horses. They were scared and they went into “battle” because they trusted us. We have been scared and they willingly, bravely carried us into “battle.”
The least we can do is go to battle for what is right for them for the rest of their lives.
I sincerely hope they do what is right for these horse officers. Sad that their honorable lives would lead to anything other than a distinguished retirement just like any other officer. I’m sure the police officers themselves are pulling for their partners’ peaceful retirement. Thanks Julie for following this story. I’ll try to be optimistic the ending is a good one for the horses.
If “legally these animals are considered law enforcement officers,” why then when they “retire” aren’t they entitled to a retirement pension? Seems to me they should be!! What happens to K-9s who retire from the police force? If the dogs are well treated after retirement, why then not the horses? Come on! Do the right thing, Chief of Police!! At least let the philanthropic group taken them to retire on the Big Island!! (oooh, that sounds good!)
These HPD horses have served and protected the community for years. I hope the same consideration will be given to them for their retirement. The generous donor offering a permanent, pasture home for the entire group sounds like a very nice option.
We did find this, but the answer (saying that the auction isn’t still in the mix) doesn’t ensure retirement or rule out sales to owners who will continue “use”: http://www.honolulu.gov/csd/publiccom/honnews09/hpdhorses.htm CITY EXPLORING OPTIONS FOR HPD HORSES
Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced today that the city is considering several options to transfer the seven horses in the Honolulu Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit, which the department discontinued last year.
“Since HPD disbanded the unit, the horses have been well cared for in Waimanalo,” Hannemann said. “The time is growing near, however, for the horses to be transferred from HPD’s hands, and we’ve been meeting with the department on the best possible solution.”
Among the options being considered, Hannemann said, is having another government entity experienced in the care of animals take and care for the horses. In addition, there’s a possibility that a private caretaker with large pastures could take the horses.
“There is no auction of the horses planned, nor has HPD ever requested an auction,”
Hannemann said. “We will use every effort to keep the horses together. We will not
simply sell the horses one-by-one, at a public auction at which just anyone could bid without
any assurances that that they will be humanely treated with the respect and the care they deserve
following their devoted service to the Honolulu Police Department and the community.”
these horses have worked hard, as hard…most likely harder…than many law enforcement officers. when human law enforcement officers retire, what do they get? they get to relax, and live life.
these horses have earned that same right. they deserve retirement, in a nice pasture full of green grass and a person who who expects that these horses come in for feed, treats and a good brushing.
if these horses “must” be sold, sell them to someone who will give them the retirement they have earned!
What can the public do to help sway the police chief to do the right thing?
One of my best friends does alot of work for the Grace foundation in California, which is a wonderful horse rescue operation. Caroline Webber
Thank you for blogging about this and letting the world know. The horses do deserve retirement IMHO.
Seems to me the horses should be given the same benefits as any of the officers in that department would get after a forced retirement.