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: