Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

It takes a brave horse to join Tampa police force


In a large green field in Dover, police officers try to scare horses.

They set off fireworks, fire blanks and turn on loud sirens and lights. They jump out from behind trees and throw tennis balls.

The ones that pass the test don't flinch. They buck their instincts to flee, and they don't kick.

They can't. Because in Ybor City at closing time — or at a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game, parade or school event — they might hurt someone if they did. A frightened 1,200-pound animal in a crowd is a liability, police Cpl. Ellen Schantz said.

Schantz, a member of the Tampa Police Department's mounted unit for nearly 10 years, knows horses.

Most people don't. Drunken clubgoers on Seventh Avenue sometimes slap the horses.

"That happens a lot," she said.

They smack the horses to see if they get a reaction.

"But they get a reaction from us," Schantz said. "The handcuffs go on real quick."

It's a criminal offense to hit a law enforcement animal.

At parades, moms with children in strollers come running up from behind the horses. At Gasparilla, the horses get hit with beads.

But don't feel sorry for them, Schantz said.

When they're not working, the department's seven horses roam 250 acres owned by the city just north of Interstate 4 in Dover. They've got a grassy field, wooded area and a creek.

They're rarely in stalls, so they graze all day.

Schantz and the four other officers in the mounted unit take care of the horses themselves. On a recent afternoon, she visited the property and checked on each horse.

Elvis, a horse that was donated in February and is still in training, walks up to her, expecting a treat. When Schantz gets into the golf cart, he sticks his head inside.

"I've got nothing for you," she says.

He doesn't budge.

"I'll turn on the sirens," she warns.

No movement.


Not a flinch.

This one's a winner. She expects he'll pass training with no trouble and be on the streets within a month.

She slowly drives the golf cart through the field, and a chestnut-colored horse trots up to the cart. He's Justice, the bravest of them all, Schantz said.

"Nothing scares him," she says.

Chad, the dark bay thoroughbred, sometimes gets nervous. That's when a long string of drool hangs from his mouth. The officers nicknamed him Big Nasty.

By now, several of the geldings surround the golf cart, expecting treats.

"Don't walk in front of us," Schantz gently scolds.

But they do. They're not scared.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

It takes a brave horse to join Tampa police force 05/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 4:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs-Bills report card: Grading the Bucs' 30-27 loss at Buffalo


    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Hard to believe, but this was only the second time in their history that the Bucs played a regular-season game in Buffalo. After Sunday loss, they wouldn't mind going another 40 years without playing here again.

    Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter, seen during the first half, had a heck of a day calling plays, Tom Jones writes. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  2. Passing motorists pull three from burning home in Tampa


    TAMPA — Two men in a passing car rescued two children and a woman from a burning home late Sunday morning.

  3. Bucs-Bills: Social media reactions to the Bucs' 30-27 loss


    Here's a sampling of reactions from the media and fans to the Bucs' 30-27 loss Sunday at Buffalo:

    Buffalo Bills kicker Stephen Hauschka (4) is mobbed by teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Buccaneers-Bills: A by-the-numbers look at Tampa Bay's 30-27 loss


    Here's a by-the-numbers look at the Bucs' 30-27 loss at Buffalo on Sunday:


    Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy (25) screams in jubilation after running for a first down late in the fourth quarter. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. T.J. Ward 'at wits' end' about being part-time player


    Three-time Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward said he is at his "wits' end" about being used as a part-time player for the Bucs.

    Buffalo Bills tight end Logan Thomas (82) makes a touchdown catch over Bucs defensive back T.J. Ward (43) during the second half.