The Friends of the Richmond Mounted Squad (FRMS) is a nonprofit civilian volunteer organization that was formed in 1991 to provide support to the City of Richmond Mounted Squad. It consists of a volunteer board, supporting dues paying members and many others who support the Friends through the various projects undertaken by the group. Both events, the Richmond Ride and the Horse Show raise funds to provide supplemental financial support for activities, training and material goods not otherwise funded. All of the Friends-sponsored events raise public awareness for the mounted squad and their effectiveness as a law enforcement unit.
Scooter knocking on a Westover door -
Mounted Squad 2012
Richmond police horses need greener pastures
Friday, October 23, 2015 10:30 pm
Richmond’s once vast and proud team of police horses don’t lie down
in green pastures. They don’t even live within sight of one.
Their home is more like a jail and has been for several generations of these faithful servants.
“It’s horrible,” former City Councilman W. Randolph “Bill” Johnson Jr. said almost 15 years ago of the conditions at the Richmond Police Mounted Unit’s stables at 801 Brook Road.
Nothing has changed since then.
“There’s a dire need for new stables,” said Sue Mullins, a longtime board member of the Friends of the Richmond Mounted Squad. “It’s long overdue.”
The horses live right down the hill from the Gilpin Court housing project, in a stark industrial ravine that filled with water during Tropical Storm Gaston.
There’s not a single blade of grass in their pasture, a dark, fenced-in half-acre directly below the Chamberlayne Avenue overpass.
Right across Brook Road is the busy and noisy Stratton Metals plant. And long coal trains regularly rumble past a few yards from their paddock, with engineers laying on their horns to warn Brook Road motorists.
“We can’t hear ourselves talking when the horns are blowing. I don’t know how the horses stand it,” said a woman named Shannon, one of three homeless people living under the overpass. This close-knit trio are typically the only overnight company for the police horses.
She and a male companion named Kevin-T say it seems like a stark way for animals to live. Mostly, they said, the horses stay inside the stable.
The building itself is pretty nice and well-kept for a barn that was built a half-century ago, in 1965, according to city records. The stalls are roomy and the place feels homey, if worn.
There are three horses now: Scooter, Rio and the newly acquired Samson.
That’s down from six horses three years ago under then-Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood, a big supporter of mounted patrols.
Twenty years ago, the squad had eight horses.
And 70 years ago there were 14 steeds for the proud, blue-coated Richmond Mounties.
Back then, they were housed at the old Howitzer’s Armory on North Seventh Street, where J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College’s downtown campus now sits.
And when the unit was officially formed — reportedly in 1894 to patrol the outskirts of town — it’s my understanding the stables were in Shockoe Bottom in a long brick building off East Grace and North 18th streets, part of which still stands today.
Of course, cops on horseback were nothing new back then, since most everybody rode horses at the time.
The unit was disbanded sometime around 1915 (depending on which account you read) when Richmond’s “modern” police force became fully mechanized.
Reports back then in the Richmond Times-Dispatch indicate it was revived in 1941 when two horses, a gray and a bay, were brought in to help control crowds and traffic. It was an instant success, at the unit quickly grew.
An oft-quoted maxim here is one officer on horseback is worth 10 on foot when it comes to dealing with crowds. We saw their effectiveness during the Nov. 2, 1985, mini-riot during the Grateful Dead show at the Richmond Coliseum. I was there.
You know it’s serious business when the horses move in.
They’re also highly regarded ambassadors, attracting love from citizens, young and old alike, and adding to the warmth and sense of nature in our city.
Emphasis on the mounted unit “ebbs and flows,” Mullins said. She said new Police Chief Alfred Durham assured her group that he’s a horse guy.
“We breathed a sigh of relief,” she said.
The group has been helping support the unit since 1991. They provide horses and training and hold fundraisers, such as the annual ride through the city.
They’re ready to help coordinate any volunteer-assisted rally for a new barn and pasture. “When the push comes,” Mullins said, “we’ll be there to help.”
I’ve spoken with Richmond Police Acting Deputy Chief Steve Drew twice about the situation. He says they’re fully aware of the problems and they’re trying to figure out how to make a better world for their horses.
One of the possibilities is a new place in Bryan Park, an idea that Councilman Johnson pushed in 2001. Not only would it be healthier for the horses, he said, it would add to the family atmosphere of the park.
But these are tight budget times, and the mounted squad always has been the first to have to tighten their cinches.
In budget battles in the past, the mounted squad has been dead center on the chopping block.
Friends, please don’t get the idea our horses are being abused. They are as well-loved as any of the many that have patrolled our streets during the past century and more.
I visited the barn on a recent evening and watched the three mounted officers carefully groom their steeds before their evening ride through the club district in Shockoe Bottom.
The officers and horses were beautifully turned out, and these three officers clearly loved their partners and their jobs.
No one would love to see greener pastures for their horses more than this squad.
The homeless trio under the bridge get that. They’re used to harsh living and wish for better for the horses with which they’ve shared their overpass for years now.
“Bryan Park, that’s a beautiful place,” Kevin-T said. “There’s green everywhere.”