NYPD Mounted Unit Gets 9/11 Anniversary Duty

Equine members of the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Mounted Unit weren’t called to duty when terrorists attacked the city on Sept. 11, 2001, but the animals and their human partners will be in evidence today (Sept. 11) when New York marks the 10th anniversary of that attack.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 19 hijackers took control of four commercial aircrafts. Five hijackers crashed American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Minutes later, five other hijackers crashed United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center’s South Tower. Shortly thereafter another hijacked aircraft, American Airlines Flight 77, was flown in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked flight, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed near Shanksville, Penn., after passengers fought hijackers for control of the aircraft.

According to the 9/11 Commission, a ten-member panel appointed by former President George W. Bush to examine the terror attacks, the 256 people aboard the four planes lost their lives, more than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center, and another 125 were at the Pentagon.

Both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed as a result of the attacks, spewing fire, smoke, and debris throughout the surrounding areas. When the NYPD first responders were dispatched to the scene, the equine members of the Mounted Unit were not among them.

"There were just too many risks," said NYPD spokesman Detective Mark Speechley. "But they will be deployed on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011 during the anniversary observance."

The NYPD Mounted Unit was established in 1871. Currently about 112 uniformed officers and approximately 80 horses serve in the unit. Mounted Unit members are generally deployed to serve in crowd control situations.

Mounted Unit member Deputy Inspector Barry Gelbman said equine unit members of the unit are Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Draft cross geldings ranging in age from 5 to 10 years.

"Rather than for their breed, the horses are chosen for their temperament," Gelbman said.

Horses purchased for the unit have been saddle trained before arrival at the NYPD equine facilities in the Bronx. Once there, the animals undergo three to six months of specialized training to desensitize them to urban noise, traffic, and crowds.

"My horse has to be able to stand quietly in the middle of Times Square," Gelbman said. "So, first we take them out onto a quiet street. If they do well, we move on to a more busy street. If they make it out of the Bronx, we take them to Manhattan."

Equine members of the unit usually serve for about 10 years before they are retired.

NYDP officers do not need riding or horse handling experience to join the unit, Gelbman said, but officers who apply to join the unit must demonstrate they are physically fit enough to work with the horses: "Working with the Mounted Unit is a very physical job. But if you’re basically fit and a good police officer, we’ll teach you to ride."

New unit members are not immediately assigned permanent equine partners, Gelbman said. Officers start out riding other members’ horses. Permanent assignments are made later depending on the number of officers joining the unit, the number of equines in the unit, and the number of horses slated for retirement.

Fan Tan, a 16.1-hand Standardbred/Draft cross, has been Gelbman’s equine partner since 2008.

Although Gelbman was not yet a member of the NYPD Mounted Unit on Sept. 11, 2001, the pair will be deployed today when New York remembers the attacks and honors victims and heroes.

"We’ll be out there," Gelbman said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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