CLEVELAND - When I was a kid watching movies about cowboys and life in the American West, I admired those heroes who had horses steadfastly loyal to them.
Hopalong Cassidy rode Topper, Roy Rogers rode Trigger and the Lone Ranger was astride Silver. For me, there was nothing better than a hero of the American West with his horse who usually helped save its master when its rider got into a heap o' trouble fighting the outlaws.
Horses galloped across the movie screens of my youth on a weekly basis as I chomped through popcorn at my local movie house.
I felt that sense of excitement again as I watched members of the Cleveland Mounted Police unit put their horses through their paces at the police stables and at Public Square.
"We go out every day a lot of people approach us," said Sgt. Mark Medwid, leader of the mounted unit. He gave his thoughts as he was astride his horse as they made a police presence in the heart of Cleveland.
With Medwid were his sidekicks. They were other offices in the unit who brought out their horses for both exercise and a chance to show themselves to the public.
"When it comes to things like parades and things like that, it's an important thing," said Detective Jennifer Ciaccia, a Cleveland Police public information officer. "But the horses are also very active as a public relations tool, too," she added.
At Public Square, as soon as the horses were guided from the vans which officers use to transport the mounts throughout the city, all eyes turned toward several officers, each sitting tall in the saddle, as they guided their steeds along the concrete sidewalks and asphalt streets of the center of Cleveland. People quickly moved to the seven horses which clip-clopped through the square, stopping in front of Tower City.
I immediately thought of one of my favorite Western movies, "The Magnificent Seven," which featured seven strong-minded men who helped a village of Mexican peasants chase away a group of outlaws who regularly robbed the village of most of the food its people had grown. Stars Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and the other good guys all sat tall in their saddles. I recalled how they were the epitome of strength and all that is good.
That same feeling swelled in me as I watched the seven Cleveland police officers and their horses. There were no bad guys to chase down on the day I was with the unit, but there was a lot of public relations going on. People easily approached the horses and rubbed their noses and touched their flanks. The horses enjoyed the attention. So did the police officers who understood public relations was as much their job as was keeping the peace.
Still, the primary job of Cleveland police officers and all they do is keeping the peace. Only horses which have a temperament for police work are chose for the mounted unit.
"We train them so they are used to live fire," said Officer Scott Sieger. "We also use fireworks and loud noises so they used to being in the traffic of downtown," he added.
The Magnificent Seven in Cleveland are part of a long line of horses which have been part of the police story in this city. Cleveland, the second city boasting a mounted police unit in modern history, once had 50 horses. Those days have changed. Now there are only seven, but their role is vital.
Still, surprisingly, the purchase of the horses, their feed, and their upkeep is not the responsibility of the City of Cleveland. Although the city pays the officers and other employees and covers the costs associated with the unit's stable, costs for the horses is borne by the Friends of the Cleveland Mounted Police unit. It is an expensive proposition. Donations are welcome and can be made to the unit by contacting www.clevelandmountedpolice.com.
However, it is not all public relations for the horses. Officer Sieger recalled the day he witnessed an assault on the opposite side of Public Square, where he sat on his horse. As the suspect ran toward Tower City, Sieger and his horse quickly moved into action.
"I followed the suspect and boxed him against the wall using the horse," he said. "When that guy saw that horse, he turned stone cold in the face," said Sieger.
Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers nor the Lone Ranger could have done it better. In fact, Officer Sieger could have taught the movie stars of "The Magnificent Seven" how to handle a horse and get the goods on a bad guy.
There was once a great military man who, in his old age, recounted the wartime victories he knew when he was a horseman going into battle. "When you are on a great horse, you will have the best seat you will ever have."
He was right. Just ask any of the horsemen in the Cleveland Mounted ranks who ride the city's Magnficent Seven.