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When new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke arrived for his first day of work in Washington, D.C. on horseback, the unusual mode of transport attracted national media attention. The commentators and reporters overlooked the special background of the striking bay roan horse selected for Zinke to ride. The even-tempered sport horse previously carried Jessica R. Swan, ex-MBH, and Clay Smith in the hunt field for several seasons after being imported from Ireland. Swan donated him to the National Park Service's Park Police when he retired from hunting in 2014.

Named Tonto by his Irish breeder, the 17.2 hh gelding followed hounds at various Virginia hunts, including Blue Ridge, Old Dominion, Warrenton, and Casanova. Due to his even temperament and unflappable nature, Swan considered the horse "a dream" to hunt. "His story needs to be told, because everyone who knew this horse loved him." When a minor injury curtailed his career in the field, but did not mandate complete retirement, Swan sought out a second career.


Swan and Tonto at the Casanova Pairs Race. Photo by Richard Clay.

Established in 1934, the United States Park Police Horse Mounted Unit is one of the oldest established police equestrian units in the United States. According to the National Park Service website, "These nationally acclaimed officers and mounts are highly respected for crowd management techniques. They also function to maintain order during major demonstrations and special events and have been transported to other sites in the National Park system to control demonstrations."

Swan got in touch with Park Police Officer Mariea Sabate, who actively solicits donated horses for the Mounted Unit. Field hunters are often an excellent match, because of their stamina and prior exposure to various stimuli, including cars, loud noises, and unexpected movements. Sabate said, "We need horses like Tonto who are level headed, adaptable, gentle, and need a job. I sometimes get problem horses and depending on the problem, I can fix it." Tonto, however, immediately stepped up to his new role in our nation's capital. "He is awesome, a real gem," said Sabate. "I wish I had a barn full of Tontos."


While Tonto has now been featured on major news outlets across the country, he continues to do his job every day. He also has a certain future when his working days end. Swan plans to take her old partner back to her farm in northern Virignia when he is ready to be pensioned. If you are interested in donating a horse, call Officer Sabate at (202) 426-6853, or send an email to mariea_sabate@nps.gov. Other questions about the Horse Mounted Unit may be directed to Sergeant Robert Hartnett, Edgewater Stables, at (202) 426-6853.


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