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The Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

November 11, 2011 at 10:09 PM

Part crowds, part carrots for horses on the beat

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Sketched Nov. 9, 2011
sgtgrant-m.jpgIn recent weeks, the Occupy Seattle movement has kept the city’s mounted patrol unit, well, occupied. Crowd control is one of the things it does best, and that has come in handy at Westlake Park, said Sgt. Grant Ballingham (right.)
The five-officer unit, which was on the verge of being dismantled last year due to budget cuts, also plays another important role, one that runs counter to an image of force: public relations.

“Not very many people approach a cop on foot, but everyone wants to pet a horse,” Ballingham told me this week during a deployment to a protest in the U District.
And the horses love the attention. Officer Mark Wubbena said his horse, Harvest, looks forward to carrots and apples that a downtown waitress always brings out for him. “He will do anything for food.”
Officers work daily with their horses in an arena at their West Seattle stables. Training exercises involve loud noises and obstacle challenges that prepare the animals for whatever surprises they may encounter in the field.
“Everything downtown is unnatural to them,” said Ballingham. “They learn to trust us.”
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Officer Paul Stimmel said his quarter horse, Cody, is exceptionally good at lowering his head for kids. Some unusual locations he has been to include the Battery Street Tunnel and downtown’s BNSF rail tunnel.
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Officer Mark Wubbena said Harvest is fond of taking cat naps in the middle of the day. Horses can sleep while standing but Wubbena recalled one time when Harvest caught him by surprise and dropped down on his feet for his nap. Harvest walked on top of the viaduct recently while it was closed for the first phase of its demolition.
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Sgt. Grant Ballingham rides Tiger, a quarter horse he describes as the “alpha-male” of the group. He’s solid, athletic and “likes to be in charge,” said Ballingham, who has commanded the unit for the past seven years.
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Officer J.D. Martin said his American paint horse, Blaze, has two personalities. He can be “blaze,” fast and powerful, or he can be “blasé,” calm and friendly. Martin said Blaze started out young as a police horse, at age 3. “He thinks he’s more human than horse,” said Martin.
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The unit’s trailer is well stocked with hay so the horses can take a break in the middle of the day.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!

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