NEW YORK - Gomez is a very curious horse, sniffing out the Fox 5 microphones placed in his bowl and staring down the camera.
It’s a good sign that he’s not afraid or skittish since he will one day patrol the streets of Manhattan.
“It’s paramount to have a horse that is calm, docile, willing to walk through traffic and deal with tourists and crowds and the lights,” said Deputy Inspector Barry Gelbman, the commanding officer of the NYPD’s mounted unit.
But with Gomez, his calm demeanor was not a sure thing. That’s because he is a wild American mustang—emphasis on wild.
For the first time ever the NYPD has partnered with the Federal Bureau of Land Management to acquire the next class of NYPD’s four-legged finest from public lands out west.
Gomez and his counterparts first spent time with inmates at a facility in Nevada in a process called “gentling,” so the horse can become familiar with people.
Another mustang, Foley, was wild two years ago. He was a classmate of Gomez but has already graduated and is on patrol in Times Square.
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Side by side you can see the mustangs stand a bit shorter than the traditional Draft Cross breeds the NYPD acquires through private vendors.
“There’s a big difference between the American mustang and the draft crosses we normally use,” said Sgt. Rachel Hammer, a mounted officer who has been paired with Foley.
“He’s much more athletic, his size is different from the draft crosses… He’s good on his feet, doesn’t slip, doesn’t trip, so that’s a benefit for New York City.”
Foley was a quick learner. But Gomez….
“He’ss a little more ground shy than other horses,” says Kris Christensen, a mounted officer who is now a trainer, working with Gomez.
For mustangs like Gomez, daily exposure to physical obstacles at their training grounds in the Bronx is key.
“It’s essential to everything, or else it wouldn’t work. So its just your job to build up their confidence,” Christensen said.
Physical barriers is one part— getting them accustomed to noise is another.
“Fire engines, garbage trucks, construction equipment,” Gelbamn said. “The environment that these horses are in is very high energy— there’s a lot of stimulus going on, and the goal is for that horse to be de-sensitized.”
De-sensitized so he can do his job. And in Times Square, that means ready for anything.