By Melody Dahl Gabriel, Contributing Writer

The Beachcomber, Thursday, July 9, 1987

The Mounted Patrol of the Hampton Police Dept.
during the 350th anniversary parade,1988.
[Peter E. Randall photograph, from Randall’s
1888-1988, Chapter 10, page 386.]

HAMPTON BEACH — Six years ago a mounted patrol unit for the Hampton Police Department was just a dream for Sgt. Dennis Pelletier.

Today, after a lot of hard work raising funds to support such a unit, Pelletier’s dream is a reality and Hampton’s five-horse mounted patrol is one of the town’s most popular attractions both with the local people and with tourists who visit this resort beach community.

Now a Deputy Chief of the Hampton Police Department, Pelletier says that the Tennessee Walkers are a valuable asset to the police department.

He notes that policemen seated in the saddles of the tall, stately horses have good visibility while working in a crowd or directing traffic. The Walkers measure 15.3 hands -— which is about five-and-a-half feet tall — to the horse’s shoulder.

Additionally, riding the horses gives police greater mobility on the sand enabling them to patrol the beach more easily, says Pelletier.

There’s something friendly about the sight of a policeman on a horse he says. Because of this, adults and children do not hesitate to come up and talk to the officer on his mount. thus making the police more accessible to the public.

Pelletier adds — with obvious delight -— the mounted patrol has been a wonderful public relations tool for the police department. Appearance at parades, schools and sometimes even funerals, have brought wide recognition to Hampton’s mounted patrol unit.

Started in 1981

The mounted patrol program began back in 1981 when Pelletier got the okay from Police Chief Robert Mark to seek private donations for the start of the unit. After numerous speaking engagements and pleas to the media, Pelletier managed to raise $25,000.

That money bought four horses, paid the boarding fees for a year, paid the veterinarian and blacksmith bills, and bought the expensive riding gear, including breeches, boots, saddles and helmets.

The following year, taxpayers got behind the unit and okayed $6,000 from town funds and $6,000 from the Hampton Beach Precinct budget to help defray the costs of maintaining the program.

Stabling the horses was another hurdle that had to be overcome.

After boarding them for a year at a private residence, Pelletier was offered a location at the Tide Water Camp Grounds on Route 1. Owner Wally Shaw paid for the materials and Pelletier put together a group of carpenters to build a barn. The horses remain there today, care for by the Shaw family for a monthly fee.

In 1985, the Friends of the Mounted Patrol was formed. It is a non-profit organization devoted to raising funds over and above tax dollars to buy items for the unit, such as a horse trailer to bring the Tennessee Walkers to the beach from their Route 1 stable or to parades in other communities. A fifth horse was added to the unit in 1986.

The Riders

According to Pelletier, the men who ride the horses are initially chosen for their desire to join the unit. Many have spent their own money taking private riding lessons to prepare for the special duty. The men are assigned to the unit full-time from April to September.

Pelletier has turned the day-to-day operation of the unit over to Sgt. John Galvin who rides RASTA. Then there’s Patrolman Neal Socha on SCOUT, Patrolman James Tuttle on SUNDANCE and Patrolman Joseph Galvin on MAGIC.

PEACOCK, the newest horse to join the family, is ridden by any of the above officers or Sgt. George “Skip” Bateman and Pelletier.

Galvin notes that the 1,100-pound Tennessee Walkers have a smooth gait and a running walk as opposed to the trot that is common to most horses.

“The smooth ride makes sit easier for us to be in the saddle for eight hours,” Galvin says.

Galvin says he looks forward to spring every year because he gets to work full-time with Rasta. He also notes that the generous support given to the Mounted Patrol Unit by interested people “has made this program especially unique.”

[unreadable] ….. are hesitant to step on it and walk to one side or the other. Galvin explains that the horses think the blanket is a hole. They react the same way at first to puddles in the street. After several tries and some encouragement from their riders, the horses cross the blanket without fear.

Quiet Dispositions

The animals need to learn to work with other department vehicles too. Cruisers are driven into a training area, and the sirens and blue lights are turned on. The horses are also exposed to the fire department’s equipment; air tanks and sirens are used, and hoses are squirted on their legs. The hoses are used to having water on their legs. Galvin says, but the force of the fire hoses is a little stronger than what they usually experience.

Horses used by police are originally chosen partly for their quiet dispositions, Galvin says. Six years ago, John Margotta, the professional trainer that originally trained the horses, went to Tennessee and chose the four original Tennessee Walking horses for the department. Last spring, a fifth horse was purchased.

A horse used by police should not be nervous and should not be inclined to kick or bite. Other criteria used, says Galvin, are the horse’s head, neck and legs. Dark red or brown are considered more appropriate colors for police work than lighter shades.

After the horses and equipment were bought, with a portion of almost $25,000 donated by area businesses and individuals, Galvin says, they went to Margotta’s farm in Hingham, Massachusetts where they spent six weeks training to specifications given by the Hampton Police. They were ready for use by the July 4 weekend.

The training process is not limited to the horses. Galvin and Pelletier took riding lessons, and prospective riders in the department must do the same. There are few places open on the patrol, Galvin says, usually only when an officer leaves the department.

Training begins in April, and the mounted patrol is used up to Christmas. They take January and February off except for exercising. In the spring, they give demonstrations at schools, train every day and patrol on busy weekends.

The horses provide a number of advantages on the beach, Galvin says. They are able to get onto the sand much more easily than an officer on foot, and they allow for greater visibility because of their height. They can also cover ground more quickly, and move through traffic better than a cruiser could. Two horses can be used to form a wedge and separate a crowd, for example in the case of a fight or a situation in which an ambulance needs to get through.

People are also friendlier to an officer on horseback, Galvin says. “People come up and talk to you, they smile. … The kids are the best.”

[See also: The Hampton Mounties,
and Hampton Beach Police Keep Up Pace.]