To update the story about Valley Forge cutting its horse patrols:
On May 13, the two equines residing at Valley Forge National Historical Park, Star and Teak, moved to their new homes. Teak went to the Harrisburg Police Department and Star went to the New York City Police Department. As a volunteer with the mounted patrol, it was a very sad day for me. And it was a sad day for visitors to the park, many of whom made regular stops at Valley Forge Farm where the horses were stabled.
Both police departments were empathetic and sorry for our loss. They understood how difficult this was - especially for the few of us brave enough to say our goodbyes to these two thoroughbreds while they were being loaded onto the trailers which would transport them to their new and strange homes.
Separated from each other, neither horse had any idea that he would never again see his best friend. The shrill cry of each horse calling to the other moved me to tears as they were prepared for their journey.
After meeting the representatives from the two police departments, I felt assured that each horse would be cared for and loved. I gleaned some information from the officers as we chatted. Interestingly, New York City's police department has 90 horses and wants to increase its herd to approximately 120. One officer said that one patrol person on horseback equals 20 on foot or a bicycle. Another told of going into a tough neighborhood on foot or bicycle and not receiving respect. But as soon as he would come in on a horse, the "toughies" would soften and want to pet the horse and know its name.
In the previous article, park Deputy Superintendent Barbara Pollarine stated that, "We are not here to provide an opportunity for volunteers to ride horses."
Just to set the record straight, I have had my own horse for the past three years and prior to that, leased a horse. The only reason I was interested and cleared to ride the park-owned horses was because the National Park Service (federal government) flexed its muscles and exercised its "right" to eminent domain thereby taking the privately-owned stable on Thomas Road where my horse was boarded.
As stated in the beginning of the article, Star and Teak were not Smarty Jones. There was no "team" with owner, grooms, or trainer. If a volunteer wanted to ride, said volunteer would have to go into the pasture and catch the horse. Depending on the weather, the footing could be a mess. The horse would then need to be groomed and the time this took was dependent on how clean the horse was.
Next was tacking up - putting on saddle and bridle and then putting on helmet, chaps and gloves. This procedure was reversed after the ride and I would usually feed the park horses, thereby freeing up a ranger. On many days, I would ride my own horse at his current stable and then ride a park horse.
My husband asked me repeatedly why I would do something that looked to him like nothing but work. Riding horses has always been a passion for me so I was doing what I loved. I greatly appreciated having Valley Forge Park in my backyard and this was a way that I could do what I loved and also give back to the community.
I find it hard to believe that out of a budget of more than $5 million, the estimated $15,000 it took to maintain two horses was going to make that much of a difference. Pollarine also stated that they want to make sure the visitors to the park have a safe and enjoyable visit. How can it be any safer when they are cutting the mounted patrol? I know that the mounted volunteers can't execute law enforcement, but since the rangers are short-staffed, having extra eyes and ears to alert them to problems is critical. The volunteer mounted patrol on privately owned horses was also axed.
Taking away something that gives nothing but pure pleasure to the visitors is contradictory to ensuring an enjoyable visit. On Mother's Day I was surrounded by parents with children who were petting Teak and giving him slices of apples. If one wants to see happiness, then one should watch a small child pet a horse. On another recent ride, a nurse was walking with a teenager who had some sort of mental handicap. This girl could not speak and stood staring in awe at Teak. She then slowly raised her hand and I said it was OK if she petted him. The look on her face was one of indescribable joy. This is only a small sample of the enjoyment that has been robbed of the visitors to Valley Forge Park. Not one single visitor that I spoke with thought that getting rid of the horses was a good idea.
Horses are a part of the history of Valley Forge Park - not rangers riding on bicycles or in golf carts. Star and Teak will be greatly missed by the volunteers of the mounted patrol and the visitors to Valley Forge Park.
Editor's Note: The writer lives in Tredyffrin.