For Manchester Mounted Patrol, It’s All About Community
Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Just north of Stark Park sits an intricate network of buildings, practically unnoticeable from the main road, that house the last mounted police patrol unit in the state of New Hampshire.
Founded in 1998, the unit started with two Thoroughbreds retired from Suffolk Downs. Today, it’s made up of a 16 year old Clydesdale, General Stark, an 18 year old Percheron, Bruno, and a 20 year old Shetland Pony, Eddy.
Despite some occasional misconceptions, the Mounted Patrol Unit acts with the full authority of the Manchester Police Department (such as making traffic stops, writing summonses, and making arrests) and all riders are duly sworn police officers.
It’s unlikely, however, that you’ll ever see Eddy in your rearview mirror after blowing past a red light on Elm St. As the unit’s newest addition, his role is to provide emotional support to the community and serve as an outreach tool for the department.
“He’s been a fantastic addition,” said Officer Kelly McKenney, currently the only member of the normally two-person unit. “Just petting him is comforting!”
At just under 4 feet tall and with a coat that feels more like Siberian Husky than a small horse, Eddy is a far less intimidating presence than his towering and more rugged companions, Bruno and General. The former can be found most often at schools, nursing homes, and community events while the latter are used primarily for enhanced patrol presence, crowd control, and event security.
Both are valuable assets for connecting with the community.
“You cannot get a better response from a community [than] when you have a pony,” McKenney said. “A dog’s great, but everyone’s seen a dog. There are dogs everywhere. But downtown… with a pony?”
As tools for both public outreach and law enforcement, police horses are trained to retain their composure in a variety of situations, from a boisterous parade to a violent protest.
“When we look for a new horse for the Mounted Unit, they need to be trained to ride,” explained McKenney. “After that, we just expose the horses to all kinds of different things - things that might not seem scary to a person… can be terrifying for a horse whose natural instinct is to run from danger.”
Nearly anything can spook a horse, from loud noises to sudden changes to a once familiar environment (like a new sign or bench on a sidewalk). The department aims to desensitize the horse to these potential triggers by gradual exposure coupled with reassurance from the rider.
“When I first started riding General, he felt like a coiled spring, ready to explode at any minute,” mused McKenney. “And sometimes he did! I remember walking past Veterans Park one fall when the Parks Department decided at that moment to expunge the irrigation system. Making a very loud hissing noise. General and I were on one side of the street, and before I knew it, we had magically transported to the other side of the street - via flying horse.”
Over time, however, General learned to cope with the unexpected. “He's still not bomb proof - no animal ever will be,” said McKenney. “But he amazes me every day with the things he puts up with.”
Unlike the rest of the department, the Manchester Mounted Patrol derives its funding not from taxpayers, but from donors. It operates as a non-profit and relies on private donations, sponsorships from local businesses, and merchandise sales to cover costs for the two patrol horses and Eddy.
“My salary is not included in that,” McKenney remarked with a laugh.
Despite being the last of its kind in New Hampshire, McKenney is optimistic about the fate of the Manchester Mounted Patrol. She noted that even with department-wide manpower shortages causing the vacancy in her unit to last longer than it normally would, the support of the public, and the help from interns and volunteers, has been a tremendous boon for the program.
“Without them,” said McKenney, “I would be very stressed out!”
And while public goodwill supports the horses, the horses, in turn, support the community – including MPD’s own officers and staff.
McKenney reflected on when she brought Eddy into the station to help boost the morale of the officers working on the Harmony Montgomery case. It gave them a “moment of levity,” she said, “just for a bit, to get out of that mindset.”
“We need good things, especially right now,” McKinney continued. “This is a hard time for a lot of people.”
To purchase merchandise or make a donation, visit https://www.mpdmountedpatrol.com/