Abby, the Police Horse

By Phil West, Lieutenant Mono County Sheriff’s Department

Phil and Abby
Phil and Abby

Phil, an old friend from my Bishop PD days, recently lost his partner, Abby. He posted a moving video on Facebook a few days ago. I asked if I could re-post but needed a bit more info for the readers. Here are his answers. The video is sentimental, unabashedly patriotic and very touching. If you love animals, you owe it to yourself to watch. It’s only three and a half minutes. It features Phil, his wife Karen and two kids, Sheryl and Phillip as well as Modoc, Abby, friend and and partner Richard Perkins. The link in the first sentence “Abby” will take you to the video on Mono County Sheriff’s Department Facebook page. Bring Kleenex.

We had Abby for 21 years. She was late 22 years old and was sent up on Oct. 19th, 2013 due to the complications of Cushing’s syndrome. She patrolled with me for 17 years, although I was idling her back and using Bigun (Phil’s current mount) periodically from the end of 2006 until completely retiring her in 2010. She showed with both kids (flat classes-showmanship, equitation, gymkhana, etc…), calf-roped, cutting, reining classes, in High School Rodeo.

Now the hard part. Can’t make this any shorter:

In the middle of the slide show, there is a big red horse, Modoc. We got Modoc shortly before Rich (Perkins-friend and partner killed in the line of duty, August 15, 2001) gave Abby to us in the late summer of 1992, “for the kids.” Rich said he didn’t have any desire to train and thought she’d get a good start with us, then be a great horse for Sheryl and Phillip.

Lisa Whitney, Ventura Co SO
Richard Perkins, Bishop PD

When I brought Modoc home, he was originally to be Karen’s (Phil’s wife) “dressage” horse. After he settled in, I discovered the freeze marking under his beautiful mane. Rich and I started the mounted detail and Karen lost her dressage horse. She had been training with a neighbor in dressage and I would watch/listen intently. I applied what I was vicariously learning to Modoc. He had a neck like a serpent and his barrel would roll the opposite direction in which you were riding (if you were riding a counterclockwise circle, his barrel would roll right instead of into the center and vice versa). I put literally hundreds of hours on that horse in the short year-and-a half that we had him. There were some folks in Bishop they found out we were starting a mounted unit said, “That horse will NEVER work the street. They were wrong.

We hit the streets.

Modoc and I worked the park, the fair and red ribbon week with the kids all around him while Abby’s training at home was coming along very nicely. Karen did the majority of the work. On November 5th, 1993 (20 years ago this Tuesday), Modoc suffered a torsional twist of his intestine and we had to send him up. There went our newly formed mounted detail with only having two members. So, Karen and I went on the road to find a replacement, “police horse.”

The owner of every horse we looked at (and you’ll see a lot of the poem in all of this) thought their horse would make an excellent police horse. Go figure… used car salesmen. We looked at many different breeds, levels of training and such, but with each horse I would look at and/or ride, I would tell Karen that something was missing that I couldn’t put my finger on. She began to pick up on it much sooner than I and started telling me to use Abby. She said that Abby isn’t as big or flashy as Modoc, but she has the “mentality” that you are not feeling in these other horses. She was right.

As I began to work with Abby for police work, she went from a moderate dominance to a dominant horse. When putting on the department saddle pad and broken stick, it was as if her demeanor created a horse another hand taller. Resolute in action while gentle in manner, is the best way I can describe her as an, “officer.”

She made the adjective ‘diva’, into a noun, “Diva.” When not performing in the arena, she knew when a camera was focused on her and would look at it as we walked the street, posing from side to side as the cameras came up to focus on, her. She was a mare, though. She loved the strokes and attention only for the first few hundred, then I had to direct folks to stroke her neck and shoulder for she was tired of the face thing and I had to be cognizant of the colt disciplinary nip.

She was like a police dog when hearing the handcuff case unsnap, knowing that was when it may go to crap. We had chased a thief through the parking lot of the fair and pinned him up against a pickup truck. I dropped the reins to go hands on with him and when she heard my handcuff case unsnap, I felt her lean just a little bit more into him to hold him in place as I cuffed him from her back.

Another instance was after I arrested an intoxicated fellow who was seated on the ground in front of a raised planter bed (the Mammoth statue at Mammoth Mountain). The arrestee’s buddy was being mouthy and getting too close to the 10-15 (arrestee). I’d had enough and put Abby up in between the two. The buddy went off yelling about how he was going to sue, have my horse (a bit more colorful language) etc… All the while we were quietly side-passing (a gentle sideways movement by the horse) him back. As the guy was yelling, I noticed with each side pass step, Abby took a bite of flowers and was enjoying the smorgasbord. Very concerned.

This is my favorite involving the fireplug, (Officer, now Sergeant) Danny Nolan (of Bishop PD): We had a fight on the Mule Days parade route in front of the park because someone was blocking someone else’s view. Go figure. We went into the crowd to secure the area for the guys on foot, and here comes Danny with his “take-command” walk as he came upon the scene that we had secured. His approach was aggressive/determined and Abby read it. Without command, she began to side pass him back.

“HEY, I’m a good guy!” Danny told her.

Needless to say, Modoc and Abby were the ones that set the wild horse mentality apart, “for us.”

Lisa Whitney, Ventura Co SO
Lisa Whitney, Ventura Co SO

I’ve only written two poems in my life, Abby’s and, Mounted Patrol. Both encompass what we experienced together and that bond. Mounted patrol I wrote after a friend, Officer Lisa Whitney was killed in the line of duty while in her investigator’s unit (a t/c). She was also a mounted officer with Ventura S.O. and then of course, later also dedicated to Rich. “The ride for now is over, the tack is recounted…” at the end of the poem refers to the death of the officer or the mount.  I’ll attach it along with the press release that our PIO did so well with some of the info I gave her.

Between the two poems, you can see what the inspiration was to write both of them.

Like I said, it’s pretty doggone hard to condense!

A long story to be sure, but worth reading.

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