The History of The Massachusetts State Police Mounted Unit
In 1865 the State Police's principal form of transportation was the horse. It was used until the late 1930's when the motor vehicle began to replace the horse. Most of the horses in the 1920’s were on loan from wealthy citizens, or were borrowed for the winter months from farmers and returned to them in the spring, when the State Police could get their motorcycles back on the roads. Today, all of the horses in the unit are owned by the Commonwealth. Horses are purchased, or sometimes donated, to the State Police Mounted Unit. The unit prefers bay or black in color horses that stand between 16.0 hands and 17.3 hands in height. On average a police horse is between 9 and 14 years old but most can work into their 20’s.
In the thirties the horses were being replaced by more and more motorcycles as well as the first “cruisers”. The class of 1936 was one of the last classes to use horses as part of their training. Only the Monson and Concord barracks retained horse patrols. By the 1940’s the mounted unit was phased out of the State Police and would not be used again for some thirty years.
In the early 70’s an attempt by a Framingham legislator to bring back the mounted unit for patrols at Lake Cochituate State Park proved unsuccessful. Another attempt in 1978 temporarily reinstated a part time unit, using horses borrowed from the National Lancers’ stable in Sherborn. The responsibility of the unit was to patrol the state park at Walden Pond in Concord. This proved to be an effective crime deterrent with assaults and alcohol related crimes declining sharply as a result of the horse patrols. In 1980, due to the lack of a full time operation, money and horses, the Walden patrol was discontinued.
Just two years later, with the support of the citizens of the Commonwealth and their politicians, a full time mounted unit was reestablished and exists today. By the spring of 1982 the unit was in full operation, with six horses and a new stable. In November 1985, the Mounted Unit moved into its current facility on route 2 in Acton. This new complex consisted of a 12-stall stable, an administrative office, tack room, feed room, a wash stall, and a 100 by 75 foot indoor arena for training.
With it's full time status, the units responsibilities also increased, expanding into patrolling state parks of the former Metropolitan District Commission and the Department of Environmental Management. Satellite stables were established at Salisbury State Reservation and Walden Pond State Park for use during the summer months. The mounted unit currently operates a daily patrol from the Acton headquarters and patrols various state parks throughout the Commonwealth. The mounted unit can be found patrolling urban parks such as the Esplanade, Castle Island, Carson Beach, Nahant Beach, Red Rock Park in Lynn, as well as rural parks, such as Bradley Palmer, Otter River, Hopkinton, Middlesex Fells and Blue Hills Reservation to name a few. In addition to this, the mounted unit participates in many public relations oriented activities such as parades, National Law Enforcement Week, National Night Out Events, Fourth of July Festivities, Gloucester’s week long Fiesta, local schools and civic events as well as Boy Scout and Girl Scout events.
Today, the unit has twelve horses and seven full time mounted troopers. During the summer the unit expands to eleven troopers to cover the extra patrol needs. The unit holds monthly training with other mounted units throughout New England. Each mounted officer is trained with a GPS and the units have been utilized on Search and Rescue missions. The unit trains with the State Police Public Order Platoons (POP), K-9, Air Wing and Special Emergency Response Teams (SERT). The Massachusetts State Police has numerous specialized units, and the ability to work together cohesively with these units gives the Massachusetts State Police something few other agencies can provide.
In addition to routine patrols and public relations oriented activities, the mounted unit is deployed to concerts, soccer games and New England Patriots football games at Gillette Stadium. Wherever you find large crowds assembling, you may find the mounted unit, present to support the troopers on the ground. Some of the larger gatherings the mounted unit has supported include the annual Fourth of July celebration at the Esplanade, Boston sports team victory celebrations, the Tall Ships, the Revere Beach Sand Castle building competition, the Bush/Gore Debates, and the Democratic National Convention.