Thoroughbreds who’ve been standing in retirement fields for years—even a decade — are proving to be ideally suited to join police mounted units, according to a California horseman who is working to keep up with the demand for OTTBs from a local Sheriff’s department.
“I think I’m seeing a trend” which finds a retired racehorse Thoroughbred, given time to let down from the racetrack, to be an officer’s perfect partner, says Julie Baker, the founder/president of Healing Arenas in Escalon, Calif.
“They’ve had to survive in a herd environment, which is pretty key to mounted unit work. They have to tolerate stuff. They have to reestablish themselves in the herd all the time. They’ve forgotten about the track and the pressures by this point, and the pressures of being in a herd correlate with police training.”
Get Out Happy
Sire: Bright Launch
Dam: Jo Della
Foal date: Feb. 28, 2001Baker first saw evidence of the natural parallel between long-retired Thoroughbreds and police work when she trained OTTB Jimmy Diesel to join the mounted unit of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department in Calif. (Please see that story here: http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/2016/03/16/ottb-makes-their-day-on-calif-police-beat/). After acquiring the big-bodied bay gelding from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF), through a partnership designed to find new careers for the retired racehorses, Baker was impressed. Jimmy Diesel took to the rigors of police training like he’d been born for the job. And he quickly became a Sheriff Department favorite.
Then earlier this year, along came a Thoroughbred who seemed like the last horse capable of police work.
Get Out Happy was pulled from a TRF retirement field in December 2014 after he’d lived out for 10 years. Neither aggressive nor lowest in the pecking order, the 16.3-hand bay Thoroughbred did not immediately take to his new life at Baker’s California facility.
He was flighty. He hated to be tied. He disliked the paddock. “He rocked, weaved and cribbed,” Baker says. “I would have never bet money he would have made a mounted horse.”
But this past February, after she’d trained her other OTTBs, Baker pulled Happy back out of the field and quickly learned the squirrelly gelding was bombproof. He barely flicked an ear when he worked with a tarp. And he maintained his steadiness when she fired weapons at close range, or tied strings of rattling cans to him.
In no time, Get Out Happy was side passing over rails and standing passively while Baker ignited smoking flares from his back.
“I only just drew a correlation between horses who’ve been retired for a long time and their suitability for police work. But, if you think about it, they have to deal with a lot when they’re in a herd. They have to keep themselves out of trouble,” she says.
And now Get Out Happy is keeping Stanislaus County Deputy Sheriff Jessica Graham out of trouble on the beat.
Happy and Graham worked their first detail together July 24. The pair moved easily and calmly around a riverbank crowded with picnics and people, says Graham, who notes that Get Out Happy was the first horse she looked at when she decided to buy a horse and qualify for the mounted unit. “I knew immediately he’d be perfect for the unit,” she says. “It’s his demeanor. He doesn’t spook at anything. He’s very mellow, which surprised me for a horse off the track. But he wasn’t afraid of anything.”
As Graham and Get Out Happy charm the crowds at police details, Baker is now working full throttle to train more Thoroughbreds for mounted unit work. Since Happy joined the force, six more sheriff deputies have come to her looking for Thoroughbreds. And Baker has pulled another load of TRF retirees from their Oklahoma fields to begin training.
“Word is starting to get out about how great Thoroughbreds are for police work,” Baker says. “There are now four OTTBs on the 16-horse unit at the Stanislaus County Sheriff Department, and I’ve had inquiries from another county sheriff department. I just came back from the Oklahoma Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and chose four more horses. I’m so excited. I would be tickled if one day, all mounted police were riding Thoroughbreds!”