The History of the Police Equestrian Competition
(Ralph Pfister, Founder, Retired United States Park Police)
When I joined the United States Park Police horse mounted unit in 1976, there was already a long tradition of mounted police competition. They had been competing at Devon, PA, Quentin, PA and Washington DC, for many years. The competition consisted of a team of five riders who rode one behind the other, and did circles at a walk, trot and canter. They demonstrated different crowd control formations and had an individual hack class. While it proved to show equestrian skill, I was always troubled as to what it really had to do with police work. Being the “rookie” of the unit, I quickly learned you don’t change easily what the old-timers started. I argued for many years that it was a waste of time practicing to do circles and it was always the same departments who went; United States Park Police, Pennsylvania State Police, Philadelphia Police Department, PA and Wilmington Police Department, DE. For a while the Maryland-National Capital Park Police (Prince George’s County Division and Montgomery County Division) would participate, but it was usually the same three or four departments. Having to provide a team of five riders really put the smaller departments at a disadvantage, not to mention the cost of travel.
I got together in 1982 with Mike Wynnyk from the Maryland-National Capital Park Police (Prince George’s County Division), Alex Wynnyk from the United States Park Police and Steve Johnson, retired United States Park Police. We decided to have our own competition, and stress the individual police officer and the individual police horse. We wanted a course to demonstrate what we believed the mounted police officer was all about, trust between the rider and the horse. We wanted every department to be able to attend, since it only required one horse and rider, and we wanted to be able to show our police management that time spent on training was a benefit to their departments. We also did away with the old excuse not to compete, “ I don’t have time to train”, since now your time out on patrol is really time spent training your mount. It is the day-to-day contact of horse and rider that builds the trust between the two and produces the capable partnership. No longer did you need five riders to do circles, now one horse and rider from the smallest department could compete. You no longer needed to be part of a special training staff from your department. It required no great skill to compete, only the resolve to do what you were already doing, maneuvering you and your mount through the hundreds of horse monsters you faced on the street every day. The only difference was now they were in a ring and the public could watch and learn to appreciate what the mounted officer was all about.
Through a great deal of hard work from more people than I could ever applaud, the first Police Equestrian Competition (P.E.C.) was held at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, in September of 1983. We had over 60 riders, little money, extraordinary volunteers, one judge for no pay, a keg of beer and the camaraderie produced between the mounted units. It was a formula for success.
In 1987, the mounted police family suffered a tragic loss. One of our own was killed in the line of duty along with his partner, his horse “Skipper.” Philadelphia police officer William McCarthy was 31 years old and the father of four young children. In his honor, a memorial trophy was created and awarded for the first time at the 5th Annual P.E.C. held on the grounds of the Washington Monument. I’ll never forget the feeling felt by all, as Bill’s wife Elizabeth and his children Jennifer, Nicole, Laver and William Jr., made that first presentation. It was such an honor to have the McCarthy family with us, and they have continued to make the presentation to the officer and horse who received the highest score in the obstacle course every year since. A tradition we hope will continue as long as we have mounted police and the Police Equestrian Competition.
It would be impossible to thank by name all of those who have contributed so much, but without their dedication to the Police Horse Mounted Units no competition could be possible. From the Chief of Police who presents awards, the mounted officer who comes along not to compete but to groom, the friends who give their time, the judges, the farrier, the photographers, announcers, committees, sponsors and the competitors. We truly thank all of you.
Return to Top