YEA TROOPER and Constable John! ~Declan
Police horse overcomes trauma, snags glory
Trooper and his rider, Const. Gregg John, won gold in every category at a U.S. equestrian police event last weekend.
The comeback story of Trooper the horse begins with a slip.
It was a grey, rainy day as the police horse trotted up Dufferin St. with Const. Gregg John, a mounted unit officer, in his saddle.
All of a sudden, one of Trooper’s hooves clipped the curb, tossing the horse and rider onto the wet pavement. An oncoming tractor-trailer was headed their direction, its 16 wheels hurtling ever closer.
“Luckily for us the driver of the truck was able to stop a distance away,” recalled John, 44, of the 2011 accident.
It was a close call, but after that day Trooper just wasn’t the same. Big trucks spooked him. He was no longer the horse any officer could ride around town.
“To use police jargon, Trooper was no longer bomb proof,” John said.
Some officers questioned Trooper’s role on the force. They wondered if he was “fried,” another police term for horses scarred from an accident. A few suggested he retire from the force.
But there was something about Trooper, John recalled. He just had to face his fear.
“We just had to put miles on him, and that meant getting him on the road, exposing him to everything you can,” he said.
John took Trooper around the city. Slowly but surely, he became readjusted to Toronto’s hustle and bustle: raucous Leafs fans outside the Air Canada Centre, rush hour traffic, and those tractor-trailers.
“Every day was training day because you’re going to expose him to things he’s not accustomed to,” he said.
And the training paid off.
The officer and his mount competed last weekend at the North American Police Equestrian Championships, an annual competition held in Richmond, Virginia that has Canadian and American mounted units face off in a variety of categories.
And, for the first time in the competition’s 30-year history, a single horse and officer came first in every event. It was Trooper and John.
“It’s vindication. It’s icing on the cake. It’s concrete evidence of a lot of hard work,” John said.
Trooper remained calm and collected during the categories — uniform, obstacle and equitation (broadly, the team’s gait and general grace) — winning each one. The Toronto police team also came in first place overall at the international event.
It was an emotional win for John. The victors of the obstacle course are awarded the William McCarthy Trophy, an honour named after a Philadelphia officer who was thrown from his horse and killed by an oncoming truck in 1987.
It was a fate that could’ve been his own, but John says the connection that all police officers share was what made the win so special.
“The McCarthy family presents the trophy to the winning officer. That in and of itself is a feeling of no other,” he said.
Despite the lengths Trooper has come since the accident, John still sees a few areas where the horse can improve.
“Trooper is phenomenal, but he is not without his little quirks. He’s not perfect at anything, but he’s very, very good at everything,” he said. “That is the benefit to having him.”