Perfect Beat

Standardbreds are consistently showing their versatility, whether it’s for riding or driving, for show or pleasure. This month, Katie Navarra writes about former racing pacer Most Fun Yet, who now serves as an equine officer in the mounted unit of the Saratoga Springs Police Department in New York, under the name Apollo.

 

Most Fun Yet enjoys success in his second career as a mounted police horse

The “Spa City,” aka Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is known for its horses. World-famous tracks—flat and harness—are less than two miles apart. Racing fans and tourists alike flock to the upstate town every summer to place wagers and test their luck.

It is no surprise that a community with the tagline “Healthy, Horses and History” is partially patrolled by a mounted police unit which consists of five officers and two horses. What some equestrians find surprising is the department’s choice for its four-legged employees. Most mounted patrol units use draft horses or draft horse crosses. Saratoga officers prefer Standardbreds.

Since the unit’s inception in 2000, three out of the four horses selected for duty have been Standardbreds. The first was a 17-hand gelding named Of Course I Can, a trotter who earned $48,802 from 78 starts and was later renamed Zeus. He served on loan from the State Park Police for three years.

Then there was Jo Jo Geronimo, renamed Jupiter, who was donated to the force in 2003. The pacer served for more than a decade prior to retiring in 2017 at age 22 after compiling a career record of 9-3-1-0 and banking $5,210 on the track.

It is only fitting Jupiter’s successor would be yet another Standardbred. Most Fun Yet, now known as Apollo, who joined the team in 2017, is the heir apparent.

“I really love the idea of rescuing horses and it is always a good feeling bringing a horse from its first career and putting it into a second career,” said Officer Glenn Barrett.

Most Fun Yet is an Ohio-bred by Full Of Fun and out of Best Sister Yet. He tallied 223 starts overall—finishing in the money 87 times, winning 19 races, and collecting $192,383 in purse money.

“We were actually getting him ready for another race season when Chuck [Charles Harrison, his previous owner] decided to donate him,” said trainer Scott Mongeon. “It is really important to Chuck to find good homes for his horses and when this opportunity came up, he didn’t want to miss it.”

Not every horse is the perfect fit for mounted police work. They must be large enough to work a crowd and possess the appropriate demeanor. The track noise, bright lights, and general commotion desensitize a horse to many unexpected scenarios that can transpire on patrol. Even those characteristics do not guarantee a perfect fit, but Barrett knew the first time he met Most Fun Yet he would be perfect.

“Apollo’s size and personality reflected what we were looking for,” he said. “He’s really good with loud noises and has never been affected by crowds, lights, or music.”

Before the bay gelding officially joined the force, requirements called for his name to be changed. The police department invited all six elementary classrooms in the local district to submit possibilities. The selection of Apollo was provided by fifth-graders at Division Street Elementary.

“Apollo is a Greek god and it resonated with us because Jupiter and Zeus were also names of [Roman and] Greek gods,” Barrett said.

After nine years of racing, Most Fun Yet needed to be broke to saddle. Initially, he went to trainer Amanda Vance, who works with New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program. Vance worked with the horse on basic tutorials such as mounting, the fundamentals of steering, and riding alongside other horses rather than being driven.

Although racehorses are used to being in close quarters on the track, it isn’t the same as riding side by side. And while Most Fun Yet didn’t have stage fright thanks to large crowds cheering in the stands, people approaching him in groups on foot was a situation he needed to adjust to.

“He loved all the activity in my barn,” Vance said. “He always wanted to be a part of it and that has helped him in his role as an ambassador. Knowing that he liked all the attention he got here at the farm made me feel a lot better about him going downtown where people would be coming up to him and petting him.”

Before arriving at Vance’s farm, Most Fun Yet was enrolled in a clinic specifically for patrol horses in Rockland County and was partnered with Officer Aaron Moore. The duo practiced formations and crowd control. Over the course of a few days, the training simulated situations a horse might encounter when on duty. They were introduced to fireworks and loud music and learned how to escort vehicles to safety in the event of a protest or the need to lead medical personnel through crowds to assist sick or injured individuals.

“Even the lead instructors were surprised he was brand new,” Moore said. “It was approximately his sixth time under saddle. He has a great disposition and is very calm and very alert.”

The police department does not have an indoor arena and with cold, snowy New York winters, the unit relies on spring events and patrols to generate conditioning in their horses before racing season hits its peak. Most Fun Yet and his partner, King Tut, a Percheron, are often the welcoming committee at the entrance gates at Saratoga Race Course. They also regularly patrol the main roads and side streets. During the day, their job is largely to interact with the public and help build relationships within the community. At night, their job becomes crowd control for a thriving Saratoga nightlife.

This spring, the coronavirus altered the unit’s routine. With public events and gatherings canceled, the officers visited neighborhoods on horseback. Residents who live near the barn had an opportunity to see the horses up close. Kids exchanged air high-fives with officers, and an elderly resident told Officer Caitlin Freshwater that seeing the officers and the horses was the first time she’d seen anyone in two weeks during the height of the social distancing lockdowns.

In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the Black Lives Matter protests put the crowd control skills of the unit to the test. The horses worked long shifts and had to be prepared to saddle up at a moment’s notice to support the officers on the ground.

“The horses give our officers a unique vantage point for spotting potential trouble before it happens that an officer on foot might not be able to see,” Freshwater said.

Apollo and King Tut have been key components for crowd control during COVID-19. Saratoga Springs public safety commissioner, Robin Dalton, announced on Facebook that Apollo and King Tut will now be outfitted with clear face shields to protect their faces.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have had to outfit our mounted patrol unit with face shields for safety,” he wrote. “The horses are instrumental in crowd control and as the recent protests in Saratoga have become increasingly aggressive, we need to make sure everyone’s safety is protected—from the protesters to our residents, police officers, and police horses.”

Harrison is not surprised Most Fun Yet has excelled in his new career. Before donating the horse, Harrison threw a western saddle on his back and the gelding never balked. Don Cromer, a close friend, owned the horse and thought he would be a good fit for
Harrison’s program.

“He told me he was a nice horse to be around,” Harrison said. “I could handle him myself and I often went out to do his stall and jogged him. I knew he was going to be a good police horse because of the way he took to everything.”

Harrison considers Most Fun Yet one of the best he has ever owned. He was not the fastest and had some issues with his legs, but the heart, grit, and desire were always present. Harrison called him “Fat Boy” because he is stout and explained that everyone always commented on his size whenever he jogged him.

Since donating Most Fun Yet to the police force three years ago, Harrison has visited him in the park where he patrols and out at the barn. When the gelding is not serving the public, Harrison always brings him carrots.

“He’s like an old friend,” Harrison said. “The one thing he loves to do is eat. He might have missed some mealtimes but never missed a meal.

“When Scott called me and told me Saratoga was interested, I was in Florida and we were getting ready to race again, but I knew it would be a good, good home. I couldn’t pass it up because I knew I would never have to worry about him.”

Katie Navarra is a freelance writer living in New York. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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