Horses have some PALs
Dust, kicked up in puffs from the horse’s hooves, traveled back to coat the 10 waiting kids.
Loud exclamations of “Ohh, yuck” sounded out from several boys and girls as the smell of fresh manure wafted past them.
“Young lady you’re going to be on this horse,” said Dwight McGill, a traditional cowboy right down to his boots, and the operator of Zephyr Cove Stables.
“Young man this is your horse,” McGill said gesturing to a tall bay near the end of the line.
“Sweet,” the boy shouted jumping towards his mount.
McGill continued on down the line quickly matching children to equines.
Bullwinkle, Cook, Tammy, Babe and six other horses plodded out of the stable yard with their charges.
When South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Pete VanArnum announced that the Police Activities League, or PAL, would be doing horseback rides this summer he had kids lining up.
For four years, the PAL program has reached out to middle school kids with programs in boxing, skiing, backpacking and wrestling. The program involves youngsters in positive activities at what VanArnum calls a “critical age.” An age when VanArnum said kids are often faced with tough decisions. VanArnum, a school resource officer at the middle school, said he wants them to make the right ones.
For the horseback rides, VanArnum was joined by officers Chuck Owens and Jeff Regan, two members of the South Lake Tahoe Police Mounted Unit, which also is in its fourth year. The mounted patrol secured donations from a total of four stables on the South Shore: Zephyr Cove, Sunset, Camp Richardson, and Cascade.
In a rotating schedule of the stables, the officers will be taking kids out every Wednesday until September. Owens said they hope to provide rides to at least 80 children during the summer.
“There’s a lot to do in Tahoe, but many can’t afford to do it,” VanArnum said. “The only way we can do this for the kids is through the support of the community.”
The horses are a natural magnet for the kids, Owens explained.
“This is community policing,” Owens said. “The horses are the tool. Kids are drawn to them and they allow us to start a rapport. We talk with them at their level.”
Owens and Regan rode among the children on Buddy and Mick their seasoned patrol horses.
For many of the seventh-graders the trip was their first time on a horse and trepidation warred with excitement.
“That was too fast,” 12-year-old Trisina Lafteroff said to Cook, as the horse moved out in a short trot. Less than 10 minutes later she announced to everyone within earshot, “I’m not scared anymore.”
Owens continually encouraged and answered questions from first-time rider Jennifer Enriquez.
“You’ll be a pro soon,” Owens said.
“Yeah, the slowest pro in the world,” Enriquez replied as she gave Babe a kick. Babe ignored Enriquez’s urging and continued on at her own determined pace.
Shortly later, Enriquez came to her equine partner’s defense.
“Leave my horse alone,” Enriquez said to an impatient boy behind her. “She’s a good horse.”
After the ride, the children were pried away from their new friends for a hot dog cookout. VanArnum said time spent out of uniform with the kids builds trust.
“We want them to feel like they can approach us and talk about things that concern them,” Owens said.
Besides the usual law enforcement applications of mounted officers, such as crowd control and access to remote areas, it is contact with the public that gets the most mention by advocates. Buddy and Mick continued to win more public relations points Wednesday when Owens and Regan led the kids on short rides after lunch.
While out on patrol with Buddy, Owens said kids in the community often come up and talk with him – something that hardly ever happens when he’s in a patrol car.
“This they come up just to pet the horse, but it can lead into other things. Between the three officers on the mounted patrol we try to put the horses out three times a week,” Owens said. “Each year we have progressively used the horses more. On a horse you just make more contacts with people even if it’s just traveling from point A to B.”
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