CAPE MAY – Fifty-eight police horses and their law-enforcement riders from New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts paraded on the streets and sands of Cape May City recently as part of the largest mounted unit training in the state’s history.
Andrew Raniszewski, an officer at the Cape May County Sheriff’s Office, masterminded the multi-day event. He said that mounted law enforcement units are still common across the country. He took an interview on his cellphone, still atop his 11-year-old horse, Speck, as training extended into the evening hours Thursday, Nov. 16.
In Cape May County, mounted officers patrol the county-run park and trail systems, stand above crowds at beach concerts like the Barefoot Music Festival in Wildwood, and assist with search-and-rescue operations.
But above all, Raniszewski said, the horses help connect officers with folks who might otherwise feel intimidated by the police.
“Everybody wants to talk to you, to meet you, when you’re up on the steed,” he said.
The 58-horse parade on Wednesday, Nov. 15, which featured mustangs, Belgians, American quarter horses, Clydesdales and other breeds, was not just for show, rather it was just a small part of three-day training exercises that also included federal law enforcement and officers from the New York City Police Department.
The sight of nearly 60 men and women, dressed in formal uniforms atop calm steeds, added to the Christmas cheer that spread across the Washington Street Mall; several businesses put up their Christmas decorations that day. The parade was trailed by a John Deer Gator borrowed from the county zoo, manned by four New Jersey State Police officers.
Most of the training took place at the 4-H horse stables in Court House and at Belleplain State Forest, where some visiting law enforcement officers lodged in cabins. This was the first time that many of the visiting officers had ever seen New Jersey. Raniszewski said that many were shocked that the state could be so spacious and beautiful, guessing that they expected urban sprawl.
Cape May County was a great place for this training to happen, he said, because it exposes horses to a variety of terrain: Dirt trails, sandy beaches and roads with passing cars. It is tough to find such variety in one place for training purposes, but police horses must be familiar with them all.
At one point late in the parade, a white Mercedes Benz skirted the parade as it went by the Washington Street Mall. “VEHICLE APPROACHING!” an officer yelled, and the mounted horses stepped out of the way to let the sports coupe pass without drama. Such situations, handled during the safety of training, help horses and their officers stay calm in the stressful moments that could come at any moment during an officer’s shift.
Capt. Scott Knoedler, who works for the county Sheriff’s Office, said that the logistics of planning such extensive training were daunting. He credited most of the work to Raniszewski, who worked for six months to pull the three-day training together.
“There was so much to plan,” Knoedler said. He said that planning items like lodging, security for the stables and transportation became increasingly complicated as more agencies signed up for the training. “The buy-in was certainly more than we expected,” he said.
Dozens of bystanders, visitors and locals alike watched the parade with mouths agape. Much of the crowd was not aware of the parade beforehand and caught it with surprise.
Bill Dudley, who lives in Cape May, was on his daily 4-mile exercise walk when he saw the horses. “Where the heck did they come from?” he said. “I called my wife right away and said, ‘You have to see this!'”
“It was so exciting to catch it,” Lois Dudley told the Herald as the parade marched toward The Cove, a restaurant on Cape Island’s southernmost point.
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