It is a mild January morning that finds UMPD Detective Jessie Liptak at the Hadley Farm caring for the Mounted Unit’s three horses: Miranda, a 28-year old mare who, despite having a bit more silver in her muzzle, still inspects visitors thoroughly for treats, Miller, an imposing Belgian draft horse, and Outlaw, a sweet, nine-year-old gray who first came to the farm as a horse companion before finding his calling in police work.
The stables at CAFE’s Hadley Farm are the year-round home to UMass’s Mounted Police Unit, which has been active since 1978. In addition to working at community events, including parades and football games, the horses assist officers on patrols and help with routine traffic stops and parking complaints. The animals are also integral to the Equine Science program at UMass, and are used in teaching Veterinary Technology and Animal Sciences classes.
After long careers in service, Miranda and Miller will retire this spring. Fortunately, around the same time Cash and Major, two horses from Worcester Police Department’s recently disbanded Mounted Division, will join the program. Next year, the herd will further expand with the addition of two animals from Asbury University’s renowned Service Mounts Program. Amid a significant nationwide police shortage, UMPD has made a major investment in increasing its herd size even as other programs are scaling back or eliminating their equine units.
Asked if the horses undergo special training, Detective Liptak describes an extensive and ongoing regimen of desensitization exercises for loud noises, strange objects, and other stimuli. “It’s better to know how they will react here at the farm where they feel safe so you can be more confident when something comes up while out on patrol,” says Liptak. But a lot of it, she admits, comes down to disposition.