Beach Days, Not Just Horsing Around
Hampton's Mounted Patrol Has Been Policing Beach For 20 Years
By Megan Sobchuk
Hampton Union, Friday, June 27, 2003
[Megan Sobchuk photo]
For Hampton Beach police and emergency workers, the growing popularity of events like last weekend's sand sculpting competition and Hobie Cat Regatta is cause not so much for celebration but instead for preparation.
The tourist turnout has already proven its summer strength with huge numbers. To control the swarms that gather across the sand, and the sometimes inaccessible oceanfront landscape, are four officers named Blaze, Sam, Buddy, and Patriot.
Three or four nights a week, these officers hit the boardwalk and patrol the beach. Like all officers, they start their shift by putting on their uniform and polishing their shoes. Unlike the rest of the police force, these four officers are horses.
Since the early 1980s, started by the now retired Deputy Chief Dennis Pelletier, the Hampton Mounted Patrol has been serving a vital role with its ability to go where patrol cars can't. Just the presence of the horses, weighing 1,500 pounds each, commands respect and allows a mounted officer an elevated view over a crowd.
Tim Hamlen has been riding as part of the mounted patrol for the past several years.
"A mounted officer, on a good horse, can take the place of 10 officers," he said.
Hamlen also explained that the horses are perfect for dealing with the crowds that form at night. He said, "One advantage is visibility, both from the horse and that people can see us. We can also patrol down on the sand to prevent problems like bonfires."
Police patrols on horseback today serve the same purposes as centuries ago. The practice adopted in the United States follows a long history, which dates back to 1760 England. There, mounted patrols were used to deal with the plague of highway robbers infesting the metropolitan areas turnpikes.
At Hampton Beach, the officers on horseback deal mainly with happy tourists during the day and the occasional stumbler at 1 a.m.
"Many people only talk to an officer if they are in trouble. The horses provide a nice way of interacting with a police officer. Families will ask questions while their kids pet them," said Hamlen.
The first uniform issued to any`police force in the world consisted of a scarlet coat, blue pants and a black leather hat. Last Saturday, the horses were being fitted with Velcro reflectors and the officers wore the Hampton police colors of green and gold.
Preparing these crowd pleasers is a daunting task, but for horse lover Amanda Larivee, it's just another day at the barn. She has been working with horses since she was 10 years old and jumped at the chance to work with the Mounted Patrol as a stable hand or groom.
"I just love it. They pay me to do something I love," said Larivee.
Larivee is one of two people in charge of shining Sam's shoes or brushing Blaze's mane before the officers ride them down the beach. Last Saturday, she spent about three hours getting the horses ready; in a pinch she can have them ready to go in less than an hour.
"Before I get here, they get to lounge around, eat grass, sunbathe if they want. Buddy likes to lie on his side in the middle of the field and take naps," she said. "We come and get the horses ready for the guys to patrol the beach."
As barn swallows swooped overhead, Larivee carefully inspected and cleaned each horse. Using tools like a vacuum and special horse hoof polish, she made sure that each horse looked its best.
The horses don't just need to look good, they must have a very special disposition in order to do their job.
"We look for horses with certain qualities and characteristics," said Larivee. Each horse is a specially trained male gelding. All four horses have the ability to deal with the intense circumstances that they may face while serving down at tie beach. "Bomb proof",is the term that the patrol has come to use, which describes this special temperament.
"We don't expect them to be OK with having a gun fired near them the first time," explained Larivee. "They do have to be calm and patient and they can't scare easily or have nasty habits. No horse is bomb proof all the time and we don't expect them to be perfect. But they have to be used to hearing certain sounds."
[Megan Sobchuk photo]
With fireworks booming in the sky and motorcycles firing along the strip, a horse must also trust the rider.
"The horses must have nice, calm, quiet temperaments," said Hamlen. As for riders, "we look for guys who like horses, riding and talking to the public."
Each horse complements his rider perfectly and over time they grow to trust each other. Sam is the "spunky" one; Blaze is "dependable," Patriot is "loyal," and Buddy is just "easy-going."
Sixteen-year-old Blaze has been on the force the longest. Larivee said, "Blaze has an incredible personality. He likes to be the center of attention. I've ridden him before and he can be a little feisty. I like that about him. He has pep. Sam's got a little more spunk. He still isn't used to all of the things we see at Hampton Beach but he's improving."
The officers spends lot of time caring for and practicing with an individual horse when they're not on duty. "The three guys each have their own horse" explained Larivee. "In the preseason they will spend time with them and check on them in the winter.".
"I really enjoy it; it's a good break from being in a cruiser all winter," said Hamlen.
Officer Hamlen and Andy Jowett, who has been a member of the Mounted Patrol for four years, spend the winters patrolling in cars. They appreciate the change that comes each summer when they get to ride the horses.
Jowett said, "We ride at parades and go to schools in the spring; a lot of functions. This is a public unit."
Both men, like their horses, have to be good when dealing with the public. The Mounted Patrol's motto is "service to the community, supported by the community." It's the public that helps to keep the unit funded. The department pays for the barn and food but the patrol must raise money for equipment and new horses.
Police say the community plays a role in protecting the future of the unit and the horses, which are such an important part of summers at Hampton Beach.
"They create a crowd wherever they go," said Jowett.
For information about the Hampton Mounted Patrol or to make a donation, visit: www.hamptonmountedpatrol.com.
Things To Remember:1. You can pet the horses as long as the officer gives the OK first.
2. Never approach the horses from behind; no one likes to he sneaked up on.
3. The horses eat hay, grain and special feed. They get sugar and carrots for a treat. Please don't try to feed them. The officers don't want them to get in the habit of expecting food from every hand that comes near their mouths.
4. You can take them for a ride, only if you join the police force.