State police looking for a few good horses

John Rucosky | (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat The Pennsylvania State Police Tactical Mounted Unit from Hershey, Pa., rides down Washington Street during the 20th Annual Thunder in the Valley motorcycle rally in Johnstown, Pa., in June 2017.

HARRISBURG — Instead of cruisers or ATVs, the Pennsylvania State Police are looking to the community for a different method of transportation — horses.

State police officials announced recently that they are seeking horse donations to support their mounted patrol unit.

Horses have been in use with the state police since 1905, PSP officials said.

While the horses are useful for searches or patrols in swampy or heavily wooded areas, PSP Communications Director Ryan Tarkowski said a horse’s size is also a plus.

“The horses do give us an added layer of flexibility for an area as large and geographically diverse as Pennsylvania,” Tarkowski said. “Plus, when a trooper is on horseback, they have a greatly enhanced field of vision, so if they’re working crowd control then they’re able to see above the crowd.”

The mounted troopers often make appearances at community events such as parades or camps, where residents have the chance to see the troopers and their horses under more pleasant circumstances, Tarkowski said.

“People and kids especially love seeing the horses,” he said.

Any donated horses must be geldings between 5 and 15 years old. They should stand between 16 hands and 18 hands tall. Draft and draft-crosses are the preferred breeds, while thoroughbreds and other “hot bloods” are less desirable, according to a press release from the state police.

Other requirements include a quiet, sound disposition and that the animal is free of serious stable vices. A 120-day trial will determine a horse’s suitability, and a veterinary examination will also be performed.

While receiving donated horses helps the state police save taxpayer dollars, Tarkowski said the arrangement can be beneficial to the horse’s owner as well.

“It works on both sides, because they are big animals and there’s a lot that goes into caring for a horse, so sometimes it’s a family or an owner that doesn’t necessarily have the means to care for a horse anymore, or it’s a horse that they came to care for unexpectedly,” he said.

The mounted patrol unit’s stable is at the state police’s academy in Hershey, which Tarkowski said allows for easy access to the rest of Pennsylvania. There is no mandated service life for the horses, but professionals and troopers with the mounted unit know the signs that a horse is ready to “retire,” including changes to a horse’s eating habits or temperament.

“We don’t really have an age limit for the horses,” Tarkowski said. “We let the horses decide when they’ve had enough.”

When a horse’s service with the state police comes to an end, the horse is either returned to its original owners or a suitable home is found with a new owner, PSP officials said.

TO DONATE a horse or for more information, contact Cpl. Carrie Neidigh at 717-533-3463 or cneidigh@pa.gov.

Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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