At first, I couldn’t read Noelle Phillip’s piece on the Denver police officer who left his horse tied for 16 hours after he “forgot” about him.
It kept getting posted by friends, fellow equestrians, though, so eventually I opened it. What I read enraged me. This horse ended a shift, not only taking care of his partner Jason Teeters, but ensuring the public’s safety, and was repaid for his service with abject neglect.
When I was 12 years old, I left my horse in his stall after a competition still with dried sweat marking where my saddle had been. My coach called my parents, had them drive me back to the barn, where she proceeded to spell out the fundamental rule of horsemanship: these animals come before our own water, our own food, our own plans; their care is paramount.
Teeters, in contrast, put paperwork in front of his partner. For some reason, he tied his partner to an eyehook in his stall. Let me repeat that: an eyehook. When I read that in Phillips’ piece, all the horrible things that piece of freestanding hardware could do to a horse flashed through my head: puncture wounds, eye injuries. I’m not even as imaginative as a horse can practically be.
Did Teeters tie him with a nylon leadrope or a cotton one that would break if MC Hammer spooked? Was he wearing a leather halter that could break, or an unforgiving nylon one? Phillips doesn’t say. It’s not the kind of question you ask unless you’ve had to buy endless replacements for the ones your horses have destroyed. I’ll happily keep buying them, too, if it means that none of mine break their necks when something else doesn’t break.
At summer camp in Virginia 20 years ago, we’d end our rides on our ponies, and allow them a few sips of water at a time. It was thought that too much water would cause them to colic. That’s long since been debunked – give them all the water they want after a workout. DPD entrusts the care of their equine officers to Little Equine Medical Center – vets that I trust with the lives of my horses, too – so I know that a lack of the most up-to-the-minute information isn’t the problem.
I keep rolling around in my head this decision to tie MC Hammer in his stall. There seems to be no discernable reason for it. Why not just untack him, throw him in there, and come back to groom him later? That way, when Teeters “forgot” about his partner, no harm no foul.
Teeters forgot about his horse at 2 p.m., and I can’t fathom how anyone else walking through that barn failed to notice him. When someone fed the horses dinner, they didn’t think to ask why this horse was tied up, and how long he had been standing there? When other’s shifts ended, and when they went to put their own partners away, they didn’t glance in at the other horses?
Sixteen hours. Sixteen hours MC Hammer was left tied, his movement restricted, without access to water or food after working to ensure the public’s safety. I’m a Denver resident. My tax dollars go to support DPD and the mounted patrol program. With my money, someone was allowed to simply forget about his partner.
A while back, I recall a story of someone pushing a police horse that had stepped on their foot. That person was ticketed with assaulting an officer. That person was held to more account than Teeters will be for forgetting about his partner, resulting in MC Hammer’s death. I understand why LEqMC won’t say it, but I will. Horses are fragile. That kind of treatment, or neglect rather, will absolutely result in some adverse effect, be it the colic that MC Hammer had to be put down for, or a horse tying up (where their muscles freeze up), or ulcers eventually leading to colic.
One vacation day does not hold Jason Teeters to account for the loss of MC Hammer. One vacation day does not repay the taxpayer for the equine officer that will need to be bought and trained to replace him. One vacation day does not justify the life of a trusted public servant.
That may be what wrenches my gut and breaks my heart about this case: there are so many of us who take neurotic care of our teammates. A team of coaches and vets and farriers and grooms and barn owners is in place to look after them when we owners can’t or don’t have the expertise to. Sometimes these animals just get themselves into a situation none of us can prevent or treat, and owners like me have to decide if it’s more humane to put them down, medically treat them back to a subpar standard of life, or pray that the issue resolves before it comes to that. In October, I had to decide on the former for a filly I bred, a filly I fed her first meal, a filly I was the first to ride, to jump, to show. My team did everything right that we could, and yet I still was mailed a lock of her tail in a box by LEqMC; all that I physically have left of her.
Then there are men like Teeters who forget. Who dismiss the first rule of horsemanship, that the horse comes first. Who so callously and carelessly dismiss their partners for paperwork, and are docked one vacation day. Denver Police have an accountability problem, and this latest episode further highlights the incredible amount of work the department needs to undertake.