AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION WHERE POLICE HORSES ARE KEPT — Artists are often sensitive, so it's no surprise that Jacob, the painting police horse, was at first afraid of the canvas.
His teeth, the size of rubber erasers and always champing, chewed through standard wood brushes. St. Petersburg police Officer Jason Hughes patiently cajoled, buying small canvases and devising a custom brush.
Teaching police horses tricks is a way of keeping the horses active and improving their temperament around people. In just a few months, Jacob became an "equi-pressionist."
"It keeps him interested in his job, and it keeps him motivated," Hughes said.
The officer showed off his horse's newfound talent on Wednesday during a news conference.
Jacob is part of the St. Petersburg Police Department's two-horse mounted unit. His cohort, Brooklyn, has not yet taken to the artist's life. But together, they assist the downtown patrol, giving their handlers a higher vantage point in crowds and moving swiftly in congested areas at night.
They're also good for community relations, because who doesn't love horses? (Apparently some people — the department asked reporters to not disclose the exact location of the barn, out of concern for the horses' safety.)
Jacob is a "ham," Hughes said. The officer took up riding after college, when he spent a 11/2 years jousting at renaissance fairs across the country.
The horse, 10 years old, is a mix of Percheron and thoroughbred. He reached St. Petersburg by way of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Boston Police Department. His other talent is picking up a basketball and dropping it in a ring.
"He's a people horse," Hughes said. "He wants to be around people. He cares for people."
A few months ago, Hughes had the idea that Jacob might be able to paint. At first, the horse was erratic, swinging the brush hither and thither, dropping it, and sometimes painting Hughes, who has to wear overalls during the art sessions.
On his own time and with his own money, Hughes kept going back to the barn, giving Jacob a carrot every time he hit the canvas. Once treats were involved, the horse caught on quickly. He still misses the target sometimes or stops to chew on grass and look around.
The Police Department is setting up a charity showing of his work.
Hughes is happy to keep at it, but would like some help from a real artist in picking out paints. Jacob's pieces are obviously abstract, errant strokes on a white background, and his handler chooses the colors.
"I'm not very good at it, I don't think," Hughes said. Unlike humans, horses have dichromatic, not trichromatic vision, meaning that though they're not color-blind, they don't see quite as robustly as people. Never mind, though, Hughes said, because Jacob will keep painting. And Hughes will keep scheming.
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He's going to try to teach Jacob how to ring a cowbell for a Tampa Bay Rays game.
Contact Zachary T. Sampson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8804. Follow @zacksampson.