Manchester's Mounted Police Team
Queen City mounted police aren’t about to ride off into the sunset
photo by kendal j. bush
Officer Paul Rondeau with Valor and officer Kelly McKenney (who is obscured by General Stark’s head) interacting with the public in downtown Manchester
They are never going to be victorious in any races, but, every day, they win hearts when on the job.
Meet Valor, a 15-year-old grand-looking Percheron and 12-year mainstay of the Manchester Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit, and General Stark, who is a strikingly handsome 11-year-old Clydesdale cross and 4-year veteran.
The “boys,” as partner officers Kelly McKenney and Paul Rondeau call them, are an arresting sight when working their downtown beat. General Stark stands 16 hands high (64 inches at the withers, or shoulders) and weighs 1,500 pounds, and Valor measures 18 hands and tips the scales at 2,000 pounds.
Big is beautiful, but they’re no show ponies.
Intelligent, even-tempered and highly skilled, these horses are well trained in crowd and traffic control, car stops and pursuit of suspects where a patrol car couldn’t maneuver. They protect and serve while maintaining composure in even the most volatile situation.
“Our job is no different than when riding a bike or motorcycle or riding in a cruiser, except that when we’re riding a horse we’re much more approachable,” says Officer Rondeau, who didn’t know how to ride when assigned to the unit two years ago but took to it like a natural and, in McKenney’s expert opinion, has become a very good horseman.
“The biggest impact is that we can relate to people and cross all socioeconomic and other barriers when we are with these horses,” Rondeau says. “There are homeless people who love us, and they would never otherwise talk to a police officer. There is a Korean War vet who comes to pet them all the time, and he’s in love with them. Children of all ages are drawn to them. Everybody loves these horses.”
That includes reserve MPD officer Mark LaChance, who partnered with Valor for nine years before his November retirement transferred the reins to McKenney. McKenney is a 13-year MPD veteran, lifelong horsewoman and former top-flight competitor on the University of New Hampshire’s equestrian team.
LaChance still drops by the stable to visit his old friend.
“It was really hard to say goodbye to him. We were bonded, very much so,” he says while affectionately rubbing Valor’s neck. “This unit has a huge value on many levels. When I became a mounted officer after having been a police officer for many years in different capacities, the first thing I noticed was the big difference in the public’s reaction. Everybody waves and smiles, everybody wants to talk to you. Even when I was a canine handler, I didn’t get that reaction.”
The Manchester unit, which was established in 1998 and is year-round, has always employed two horses, each paired with either officer during 40-hour workweeks. The Dover unit includes an 1,800-pound Belgian named CJ and a 1,600-pound Percheron cross called Rasa and also operates 12 months per year. But Hampton’s unit, working with Tennessee Walkers Butch and Bull, is only seasonal for the busy months at the beach.
Sadly, these three units are the last in New Hampshire. The reason? Cost and care, which is expensive and labor-intensive.
Manchester’s horses eat 50 pounds of hay per day plus a ration of grain, need daily head-to-tail grooming, and must be reshod frequently with special shoes so they stay sure-footed on concrete, asphalt or ice. Add in the required professional veterinary, dental and massage therapy services, and the price tag grows.
But whoa! Taxpayers aren’t burdened by one thin dime.
“We raise all of our own funds. The unit is a nonprofit,” says McKenney, who is grateful to the team of experienced volunteers helping with the horses’ care. “We raise the money through private donations, corporate sponsorships, local businesses and grants. We’re receiving a federal community policing grant because we have such a positive impact.”
While the hay for Manchester’s horses is purchased from a farm near Plymouth and Dover’s is locally donated, Dodge Grain Company in Salem generously gives all the feed for both units, and the owners plan to provide for the Hampton force too.
“It’s a great partnership and something we pride ourselves on. The units are very important to us and are a true community tie,” says Kelly Burke Clark of the family-owned business. “We donate 100 pounds of feed every two weeks to both units. Our stable banners stating ‘Proudly Feeding the Force’ have the shield on them.”
As for the shield, although General Stark and Valor aren’t technically police officers, each now has an official badge affixed to his custom-made police tack. MPD Chief Nick Willard, a staunch supporter of the unit, got the idea once he took over the department two years ago and then bestowed the deserved honor.
“This unit is invaluable and we hold the officers and horses in very high regard for many reasons. They have high visibility, and having them on patrol helps keep the peace,” says Captain Todd Boucher, who heads up MPD’s community policing division. “If we had the resources, we would definitely consider expanding the unit. They’re awesome.”