Ranch helps turn horses into heroes

Philadelphia Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit has some equine officers with surprising pasts: Four of the 13 horses currently on the force are rescues once earmarked for the glue factory.

Darby’s trainers tried to mold him into a show horse, using harsh equipment that made him skittish and unrideable. Guinness was an underfed plow horse that could no longer work due to exhaustion.

After being purchased at auctions — where they faced slaughter — and given rest and retraining, they are now proud members of the unit.

The horses were donated to police by the Last Chance Ranch, a nonprofit Quakertown rescue that rehabilitates animals deemed unadoptable. The organization says they plan to provide up to 35 more free of charge as the unit expands, with a $1.4 million Fairmount Park stable facility set to break ground this month.

Philadelphia is the only police department in the country Last Chance is aware of that employs rescued horses, said Lori McCutcheon, founder and CEO. The partnership began last November. “We work closely with animal control, which gave us a connection to Philadelphia. When we were told police were putting the mounted patrol back together, we said, ‘Hey, we have some horses that might work for you.’” McCutcheon said.

Last Chance rescues up to 60 horses each year from auctions, animal control confiscations and surrendering owners.

Hard unit to join

Only a select few horses are considered for the Philadelphia Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit.

A horse must be male, neutered, between 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 8 inches tall and 5 to 15 years old. Rescuers then determine if they have the temperament to deal with an urban environment and crowd control situations and focus on trust-building and desensitization training.

The animals go through a second round of training when they reach the mounted unit and not all pass — two have been returned to the ranch so far.

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