Your Sto­ries: Clyde gets a sec­ond chance.

Could an abused Percheron make a po­lice horse? The odds were stacked against it.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - By Doug Wil­liams

Ev­ery­one said I was crazy. Buy­ing a draft horse, sight un­seen, off the In­ter­net? Now the mo­ment of truth had ar­rived, and I was sit­ting on Clyde for the first time. I squeezed with my legs. Noth­ing hap­pened. I squeezed harder, and the big geld­ing sort of shrugged, shuffl ing his huge feet. My trainer popped a whip be­hind him, which pro­duced a few ran­dom steps, but when I asked more firmly with mild spurs, Clyde crow-hopped his dis­sent.

This, from the horse that was sup­posed to be­come my part­ner in mounted po­lice work.

Had I been wrong about him?

Bombproof, Re­ally?

It was 2012 when I was of­fered a chance to try out for the Sher­iff ’s Mounted En­force­ment Unit of Or­ange County, Cal­i­for­nia. I was work­ing with a young Quar­ter Horse geld­ing at the time, tak­ing lessons to im­prove my skills and do­ing a lit­tle ranch sort­ing. Af­ter he and I be­came the en­ter­tain­ment at sev­eral stress­ful mounted-unit train­ings, I re­al­ized my high-strung per­for­mance geld­ing wasn’t the horse for this job. My search for a bet­ter prospect be­gan.

At first, it seemed ev­ery­one I spoke with was selling a “po­lice horse.” But some­how none of them could pass even a mi­nor sen­sory test with­out be­com­ing wild-eyed and spooky.

I moved my search online, check­ing mul­ti­ple Web sites for weeks with no luck. Then, late one night, I saw a small ad­ver­tise­ment for a “bombproof horse” on a site called Horses De­serve a Sec­ond Chance. Ni­cole Hil­liard, the site’s owner, told me that Clyde, a 16.3hand Percheron geld­ing, had been a plow horse most of his life. Now about 12, the fleabit­ten gray had re­cently been res­cued from a slaugh­ter-bound hold­ing pen, grossly un­der­weight.

Watch­ing his videos, I saw a horse with an ex­tremely kind eye, a steady mover who kept his cool around var­i­ous kinds of spooky in­put, in­clud­ing gun­fire.

My friends were skep­ti­cal. “Do not buy a horse over the In­ter­net, with­out try­ing him,” they told me. “You can’t trust a horse dealer even if she does res­cue horses. Th is ‘cheap’ horse is go­ing to ‘cost’ you plenty.”

The Big Guy Ar­rives

But I did trust Ni­cole, and I felt a strong urge to help this horse. I paid the fee to a pro­fes­sional horse-trans­fer com­pany, and soon Clyde was on his way from Penn­syl­va­nia to Cal­i­for­nia. The ship­ping charge was twice the cost of the horse. The ship­pers, amazed they were trans­port­ing such an an­i­mal, felt sorry for him. They up­graded him to a box stall so he could move about and lie down dur­ing the long haul.

So here was Clyde trav­el­ing across the coun­try on an air-ride sus­pen­sion semi truck with other horses val­ued in the hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars. “You’re crazy,” my friends re­minded me.

When Clyde ar­rived, he re­garded me with calm, kind eyes. An in­den­ta­tion and scar above his nose showed where the plow-har­ness rig­ging had left its mark. A per­ma­nent bare spot on his spine, above his hips, re­vealed where the plow-har­ness chains had crossed over his back. His topline was sunken and you could place fi ngers in be­tween his ribs. Ex­cept for his time with Ni­cole, Clyde had spent the prior six months in a small turnout with al­most no food, sur­viv­ing a North­east win­ter chew­ing on tree bark and fence posts—and eat­ing his own poop.

I’m a Marine vet and a life­time law-en­force­ment guy, but see­ing Clyde and think­ing of all he’d been through seared me. “You may never make a mounted pa­trol horse,” I told him, “but I prom­ise you’ll al­ways have a home and be well cared for.”

Clyde ‘Steps Up’

Sev­eral weeks later—af­ter vet­eri­nary care; proper feed­ing; and at­ten­tion to his cracked, brit­tle hooves— Clyde was ready for our fi rst test ride. He stood qui­etly as I mounted, but then came that balk­i­ness and crow-hop­ping.

Con­fused, I called Ni­cole. “He’s been a plow puller his whole life,” she said with a laugh. “Use the draft com­mands.” The next day, I sat in the sad­dle and popped the reins as if I were driv­ing a wagon, com­mand­ing, “Step up!”

To my amaze­ment, Clyde stepped right off. Down the arena we went. At “come gee” he turned right; at “come haw” he went left . With this key to un­lock­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween us, and with my trainer’s help, I had Clyde re­spond­ing to or­di­nary rein and leg cues in no time.

I also ex­posed him to var­i­ous sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ences—“scary” things that moved and made noise—to see what might spook the big guy. Clyde was a rock.

Then it was time to take him to ac­tual mounted-pa­trol train­ing. When he stepped out of my trailer, there were a few chuck­les about “the big plow horse.” The riot train­ing sched­uled for that day was ad­vanced work for qual­i­fied mounts only, but I de­cided to let Clyde show what he could do. I kept him in the line with the other horses as a crowd of noisy “pro­tes­tors” ap­proached—flags wav­ing, rocks rat­tling in cans, peo­ple whistling and scream­ing. Clyde stood his ground.

The train­ing sergeant then set off three smoke grenades be­hind us. As bil­lows en­veloped us from be­hind, the horses on ei­ther side of Clyde and me sank back, and other riders be­gan to have trou­ble con­trol­ling their mounts. Clyde, by con­trast, just stood there.

Amazed, I bran­dished my ba­ton and warned the “pro­tes­tors” to stay back, burst­ing with pride for my ready-made pa­trol horse.

To­day Clyde is a fully qual­i­fied and re­spected po­lice mount. He’s worked reg­u­lar pa­trol, spe­cial events, and even search-and-res­cue mis­sions in the hills. He’s mus­cled up and spunkier now, and will walk, trot, or lope with the light­est cue. He side passes, turns on both ends, and will go any­where and do any­thing I ask of him.

He de­served a sec­ond chance, and I’m so glad I gave it to him. And what he gave to me, I can’t even mea­sure.

Doug Wil­liams moved to Norco, Cal­i­for­nia (“Horse­town USA”) in 2009 and im­me­di­ately got in­volved with horses. On res­cued draft mounts, he and his wife, Deb­bie, ride sev­eral times a week. He hopes to help fur­ther ef­forts to res­cue draft horses and find them good homes.

The au­thor on Clyde, a for­mer plow horse.

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