It was a surreal image: Two horses, tied to a parking meter outside a cafe in downtown Portland, as if a passer-by had stepped out of the modern-day city and into a Western film.
But the passer-by would know where the police were: Sitting inside with one eye on their steed and one eye on the streets.
Portland's Mounted Patrol Unit was created in 1872 with a horse-drawn trolley. The unit underwent trials before fizzling out in the 1940s. Then, with one sergeant and two officers, the unit was reinstated in 1979 before being disbanded again in 2017.
And up until the end, they gave an Old West vibe to urban Portland. "They'd pull up there and tie their horse up to the parking meter and go and have coffee," said Larry Kanzler, former commander of Portland's Mounted Patrol Unit and the sergeant who reinstated it in 1979.
This is the story of four of the horses you might have seen downtown when they patrolled the streets as the Portland Police Mounted Patrol Unit. This June marked a year since their final time suiting up before the unit disbanded due to budget cuts. The disbanding impacted the horses, their previous owners, the officers who rode them, and the greater Portland community.
While some people feel nostalgia for the program's existence, all are happily welcoming the horses to their final homes in retirement.
Kanzler, who relocated the retired horse Major to his land near Prineville, said it's a whole new life for the horses and the community. His wife, Cheryl Kanzler, said Major probably asks himself daily, "Where's my meter?" Instead, she said, "He gets tied to some sagebrush."
All eight horses that patrolled with Portland's police now are scattered and tied up to new places.
Murphy went back home in southern Oregon where he's competing in dressage, a highly skilled form of riding, while Red, Monty and Asher are with families who wished to keep their locales private. Major found his place in Prineville, while Diesel went back home to Port Orchard, Washington. Olin aids people with mental or physical barriers as a therapy horse at Forward Stride in Beaverton, and Zeus lives with a former mounted patrol stable attendant at the Lake Oswego Hunt Club.
Trainer Jennifer Mack
Red was the first to leave. He cried and nickered at everyone one last time from inside the horse trailer.
"It hit home when Red left" said Jennifer Mack, his trainer. "That solidified it."
As the Portland Police Mounted Patrol Unit's former full-time trainer, Mack had handpicked each horse.
"They're like kids, you find them when they're young," she said.
With 20 horses that came and went from when she was hired in 1998 to 2017, she said "I still remember them all. I can remember what they looked like. I remember what we fed them and what size shoes they wore."
The mounted patrol unit worked in the city through the 1940s, then was disbanded. In 1979, a sergeant and two officers got the unit up and running again, before being disbanded once more in 2017.
Last year, when the unit finally was cut from the budget, Mack said the whole team was devastated.
"It was an overwhelming feeling of 'is this really happening?'" Mack said. "We'd been thrown on the chopping block for years, and then it was real."
Even though she has friends living in the city, Mack said she remembers her years there with the horses so vividly that she can't bear to visit Portland anymore.
"Honestly, it's sad for me to go there," she said. "I mean, I look around every corner and remember when a horse was walking there."
And she still wonders, she said, why the unit was disbanded yet again.
"It's pretty hazy to me as to why, after 20 years of blood, sweat and tears, I was told it was a budget issue when it didn't appear to be a budget issue."
She said they were told the mounted patrol would be replaced by community service officers, but she never saw that happen.
"There's all this talk about community policing," Mack said. "Well, you cut the best community policing tool you ever had."
During the final years, Mack said the unit was slowly cut from seven officers to five, then from five to three, who weren't allowed to work crowd control. "They kind of whittled away at us," Mack said. And once they had so few officers, she said, they became "a victim of circumstance."
Even if she never gets her position back, she hopes the unit will re-form and that the horses will stay in the public's hearts. She said they aided many issues and bridged the gap between the people and the police.
But they also brought character, she said.
When Zeus was new and out on the street, she said, he always noodled his head into people's conversations, as if he had a story to tell. And then there were his adventures at Union Station, she said, when he would follow people getting on the train and sniff their luggage as it rolled behind them.
"Everybody just laughed because he was this giant horse … and he just wanted to know what was in your luggage. You know, like 'what kind of socks are you wearing?'" Mack said.
But that was all "before the band broke up," she said.
Saying goodbye was hard.
"The first one to leave and the last one were the hardest," Mack said. After Red left first, it was a slow unravel of calling the horses original owners and sending them to their new homes.
When they drove Diesel to Kathryn Kleinwatcher, Mack said it seemed like just yesterday that they'd first picked him up. Mack met Kleinwatcher outside where she was crying and saying "this shouldn't be happening," but simultaneously feeling happy to have him back home.
And then the last horse, Monty, left.
Every stall finally was vacant.
"After Monty left, it was weird," Mack said. "It was empty."
Major: Pieces of the legacy
"I've got the last memory," Larry Kanzler said as he looked proudly to his horse, Major, who was grazing in his pen.
Cheryl Kanzler, his wife, said with almost 99 acres to roam, three horse pals and weekly spa days, Major is content in retirement.
"If he could talk, he'd say it's a good life," she said. "He'd probably tell you they don't work me enough. I'm getting a little out of shape. I'm getting a little overweight. But that'll come. We're going to take him camping."
In 1979, when Larry Kanzler was a Portland Police sergeant, he restarted the mounted patrol unit, after it had been inactive for almost 25 years.
Now, he and Major are retired but are still partners at the Kanzlers' place in Prineville.
Larry Kanzler beamed at Major and said they have a book with hundreds of trails they want to explore. But until then, the Kanzlers are waking up at 5 o'clock every morning and fixing their property with hopes of hosting horsemanship clinics, in which professionals gather horses to train them.
Cheryl Kanzler said, while Major has been less active, he's been more pampered with baths, hoof conditioning and full-body grooming.
"He loves it. He falls asleep every time," she said. "It's so cute; you can't help but love him."
After spas, she said, Major may even get to have a "pajama party," where he stays the night in his best friend Si's pen. "It's man love. Oh yeah, they love each other," she said. Major strode out from his enclosure and gave Larry Kanzler a big cheesy grin before stuffing his long face with some grass. "Call him a lot of things but never late for dinner," Larry Kanzler said.
He said Major's most peculiar habit is always trying to get closer to people by nudging them with his head. "He's retired, he needs some love," Cheryl Kanzler said, "He's worked the mean streets."
The boots Larry Kanzler wore when he used to ride his patrol horse, Toby, in 1979 still sit by his door like relics.
"We both have had some sleepless nights about them getting rid of the unit," Cheryl Kanzler said. "For Larry, particularly, because it was always near and dear to his heart."
She said she looks at the situation optimistically and believes the horses may still come back one day. Cheryl Kanzler also served in the Portland Police Bureau as a homicide detective. She said she remembers watching how effective the horses were when controlling crowds.
"It was like the parting of the seas," she said. "I would love to see it come back."
But if it does, she hopes they wouldn't take Major again. "He doesn't want to go back to the concrete jungle. He wants to stay out here in the sagebrush and have spa days!" she said laughing.
Larry Kanzler said when he was in the unit, the horses "brought the police department back into the community."
When officers sit in their cars, he said, there's a disconnect. "The city of Portland deserves to have a safe environment to live in, and horses can be an integral part of that package," he said. "I don't think the people on the bureau have any idea what the capability of those horses is."
Cheryl Kanzler said it isn't about the city having a budget for the unit, but about truly wanting it back. "If they really wanted to, they would find the money in a heartbeat."
But in the end, Kanzler said she and her husband have the final trophy: Major.
Diesel: Returning home
"Big Deeee!" yelled 5-year-old Kaiya Groth as she ran in delight toward a giant Clydesdale horse, reaching to unlock his gate and lead him into the barn.
Her father, Tyler Groth, followed close behind with Kaiya's baby brother, Knox, harnessed against his chest and a broad smile across his face.
Diesel had lived with the family before joining the Portland Mounted Patrol Unit in 2010. The horse now is back home in Port Orchard, Washington, and he still wears his old patrol halter with a small gold emblem on the side where the Portland Police Bureau engraved his nickname, "Big D."
"Mom always said whenever we had grandkids we'd get him back," Tyler Groth said. "Now my 10-month-old kid gets to ride him."
When Tyler and his twin brother, Travis Groth, bought Diesel about 11 years ago, they said they fell in love. At first, he was "a straight-legged fuzzy little guy," Travis Groth said. Yet even before joining the mounted patrol, he was more noticeable than most horses.
"Everybody's got a horse," Tyler Groth said, "But not a Clydesdale."
Clydesdales are a giant breed of horse built to pull heavy loads with their large hoofs and featured in classic and current Budweiser beer commercials. Kathryn Kleinwatcher, Tyler and Travis Groth's mom, said they've even given Diesel a beer so he'd fit the part.
Kleinwatcher said it's come full circle now that he's home in time to be a part of her grandchildren's lives. Kaiya, Knox and Axle Groth ride Diesel multiple times each week. And when they're not around, Kleinwatcher said neighborhood kids from both sides of her 10-acre property come over to help feed and bathe the horse.
"It's the easy life," Tyler Groth said, laughing. "He walks out to the pasture, walks around and eats grass all day. ... Now he just needs a swimming pool."
When Diesel first came home, Kleinwatcher said, he walked right back into his stall as if he'd never even left. And after years of patrolling, the giant horse is still afraid of lightning. His best friend, Cupcake, Kleinwatcher's miniature horse, is always there calming him down and easing his urban-to-country transition.
Travis and Tyler Groth said they kept tabs on Diesel's life in Portland. "Whenever we'd see there were riots, we'd be like 'Oh, I bet Diesel's going to be in a picture somewhere,'" Tyler Groth said. "He makes a positive out of a negative."
With Diesel home, the family is whole and the kids are always excited, Kleinwatcher said.
"Now Knox has a Clydesdale, so he'll be the cool kid in school," Tyler Groth said.
As Kaiya led Diesel toward the barn and into the arena, Axle ran in, ready to hop on the horse. Kleinwatcher said they start all the kids riding young, noting that Knox "sat on a horse as soon as he could hold his head up enough." After Axle rode him for a few loops, he trotted over to his Aunt Nicki saying, "Can we give Big D sparkly water?" He handed her a half-empty can of raspberry seltzer water and showed her a big grin.
"What are you talking about? Horses don't get sparkly water!" Nicki said, laughing with her nephew.
The three kids giggled and hung on the metal arena gate with treats hidden behind their backs while Diesel came closer to them, sniffing.
"Somebody here has treats, I can smell it," Tyler Groth said, narrating for Diesel while Hattie and Hoss, the family's dogs, ran around barking excitedly as if they were part of the conversation, too.
"I hope this reassures (Portlanders) that the horses they loved are OK and happy in retirement," Kleinwatcher said. She said she recognizes that even though Diesel is part of their family, he was part of the Portland family, too.
Travis Groth hopped onto Diesel next, riding him in a few loops around the arena before stopping in the center and letting dust float around them while Diesel stared proudly into the distance.
They ran for a while more until abruptly stopping again to play with Troublemaker, a black cat that watched Diesel from atop the fence. Troublemaker flicked his tail while Diesel nuzzled the feline's face, and the pair amused each other for a minute or so. Groth started Big D into a gallop again ,and the pair moved faster and faster, running as if they didn't have a care in the world.
Zeus: Still conquering bullies
As Zeus whinnied in delight to get out of his stable, his mocha-colored coat shimmered in the sunlight.
At his new home at the historic Lake Oswego Hunt Club, he lives with the memories of when his fellow mounted patrol horses were stationed in the same barn, calling the same stables their home.
But with 43 horses filling the stables now, Zeus is far from lonely.
In fact, just like old times, he recently injured himself by kicking his leg through a fence while playing with the others.
"Zeus is famous for injuring himself," said Taryn McAllister, who adopted him when the unit disbanded in 2017. "This seems to be a regular thing for him, so once a year we get to do some rehab."
Last year, he injured his annular ligament, and the year before it was his stifle, which is a horse's largest joint, she said.
McAllister has been riding horses for 27 years. She formerly was a stable attendant for the mounted patrol unit from 2016 to 2017. She was hired this January as director of the Hunt Club.
When McAllister was with the Portland Police Bureau, she took care of all eight horses in the unit. But Zeus had a forefront place in her heart, she said.
"We always kind of joked that I was going to take Zeus when he retired because he was one of my favorites. But I wasn't looking for another horse," she said. "It was kind of an unexpected scramble on my end."
McAllister said she adored him too much to say no.
She said in 2016, when she was hired, Zeus was the first horse she did anything with.
McAllister said she walked with him side-by-side instead of riding.
"I got to go hand-walk him. So that's my very first memory of Zeus, is trying to walk him around and have him stay quiet and not have him drag me to the ground," she said. It "probably set the scene for him being my favorite."
McAllister said Zeus' wits are what drew her to love him.
"He's always thinking through everything, and so I have to be aware of what I'm doing all the time," she said. "Or he'll remind me that I'm not."
But it's also because of his willingness to do any activity — if a cookie is involved, that is.
"He's a total cookie hound. That horse will do anything for a treat," McAllister said. "All horses are food motivated, but he takes it to the next level."
Lately, they've been doing light work like some dressage, low-level jumping and short trail rides to ease him back into health.
McAllister made kissing sounds to Zeus and he swished his tail, then stomped his front feet as he heard the familiar crinkly sound of a peppermint wrapper. Sure enough, McAllister pulled one from her pocket, and he wouldn't stop licking her hand as if she were holding more.
McAllister said all the police horses loved treats just as much, and when the unit was disbanded, it was hard to let all but one go.
"It was heartbreaking. There's no other word for it because they were ours," she said.
It was heartbreaking for the city, too, she added. "Horses created really positive interactions with the public and the police that I think, especially right now, is desperately needed," McAllister said. "Anyone will approach a cop on a horse, whether they like police or not."
At the Hunt Club, some people still use Zeus' nickname from the mounted patrol unit, "Z."
"But 'Zeus' fits him," McAllister said. "He very much thinks he's king."
And he's still saving the day by patrolling the barn playing pens and conquering bullies.
"He doesn't take any flak from anybody, but he won't hurt them, he'll just push them around," McAllister said. "I have a mini horse who pushes everyone around and thinks he's very funny. He went out with Zeus, and Zeus taught him that he was small."
Yet at the same time, Zeus still shows his playful side by using other horse's fly masks to start tug-o-war matches.
McAllister said his distinct personality is exactly why she loves Zeus, and why she misses the other seven.
"They were some of the best horses I've ever met, and I've been in this a long time," she said. "That was the beauty of the police horses — they're all kind of jacks of all trades. They'll do anything for you."
Olin: Building bonds, helping heal
A loud clip-clop from Olin's hooves on the pavement echoed through the barn as he sauntered outside toward his pen.
"You know what you're going to get with Olin," Mackenzie Johnson said. "He's really become a staple in our herd."
Johnson is an equine coordinator at Forward Stride, a center in Beaverton striving to improve lives through activities and therapies that involve clients interacting with horses.
Johnson said it was an exciting day in 2017 when Forward Stride learned it would receive one of the eight horses that formerly made up the Portland Police Mounted Patrol Unit.
"It was an emotional day, I think, for the police officers who brought him," she said. "I think that was really hard on them, but also just so exciting for us, so it was really bittersweet."
Since Olin joined Forward Stride, Johnson said they've been able to serve and treat more people. "We've just been able to expand the clients that we see because we're able to take a heavier weight than some of our other horses," she said.
Forward Stride's programs consist of rehabilitation services, equine-facilitated psychotherapy, equine-facilitated learning, a vaulting program, a carriage driving program, and a riding program.
Olin is involved in the organization's riding program, the equine-facilitated learning, a women's trauma recovery group, and the equine-facilitated psychotherapy.
Johnson said equine therapy has always been her personal form of treatment because it makes her happy, and now Olin is a part of that. During psychotherapy sessions, Olin develops bonds with people and leads them through their personal barriers.
"Walking over a pole can signify getting over something or pushing past or through," Johnson said. "It's those little things that kind of signify the big things. Being able to do it with a horse, I think, gives them that feeling of not being alone, or having someone with them, or to even help push them through it. They have to be strong in order to bring the horse with them."
She said the horses often take on new personalities to help people overcome things, too.
"If they know that you need just a rock or someone to listen to them, they kind of transform into that," Johnson said. "They also can be good mirrors to mirror how you're feeling."
She said Olin is always a "calming force" for clients.
With 35 other horses in the organization, Olin has plenty of friends and people who love him. Yet he has his own little friend group, too, like Mr. P, with whom he shares a pen.
"They play around; they're kind of the two old men," Johnson said. "They kinda hang out, but then they have their days where they run around like the young'uns."
Olin playfully bumped Mr. P, nipped him, then scampered away excitedly. "He's going to tell Mr. P what's up," Johnson said. "You know, he also can be that boss man when he needs to be."
In the pen next door, Olin nickers at Luxi and Lenna, two mares he often plays with from over the fence. The clique is always "being all silly," Johnson said.
But Olin also has a deep relationship with clients.
"He definitely has his people here," Johnson said. "You hear them in the parking lot like, 'Oh, I get to see Olin' or ' Is Olin ready for me?' It's those little things that add up."
She said he is in twice-weekly psychotherapy sessions and has two riders who also see him weekly.
"He's just as excited to see them," she said.
Johnson has been with Forward Stride for 14 years and said Olin is a greeter, nickering at Johnson when he sees her and using his big brown eyes for attention. "He's just so cute; his own special kind of cute," she said.
She said his presence at Forward Stride has helped the organization, and they are pleased to have his experience and lovable qualities on their team.
"Sometimes people have this notion that horses are so big and scary. He's big, but he's so safe and so easy to approach," Johnson said. "It's nice to have those horses that you know are just going to be OK with anything and be happy about it. I think he really loves his job. He doesn't really ever have a moody or angry day, and it's nice to have that consistency."
History of the mounted patrol unit
The City Council considered cutting Portland Police Bureau's Mounted Patrol Unit several times during the past five years. Structural problems with its home at Centennial Mills hastened its demise.
As reporter Jim Redden noted in a 2014 article, "Portland police have used horses, off and on, since 1887. A sign posted at the Centennial Mills headquarters lists the benefits of mounted officers, including greater visibility that increases their crime prevention effectiveness, the ability of horses to respond quickly in congested areas, and their accessibility to residents, business owners and visitors."
But in 2013, then-Mayor Charlie Hales faced a $21.5 million funding gap and proposed a budget that, among other things, would have eliminated 55 positions in the Police Bureau.
One way to reach that goal: Cut the mounted horse patrols.
At that time, the unit consisted of eight horses, four officers, a sergeant, an equestrian trainer and two stable attendants. The cost of maintaining the unit hovered around $800,000 per year.
Hales also wanted to spend more money on "beat" officers on walking patrols, community outreach, and on drug and violence enforcement.
In 2013, the independent Friends of the Mounted Patrol, a nonprofit organization, promised to raise $200,000 annually to support the unit. Dozens of people came to public hearings to praise the unit. Those efforts saved the unit from the chopping block.
The horse patrol came under budget scrutiny again in 2014, when a city agency declared the existing horse stables unsafe, forcing the horses to be relocated to a farm in Aurora. The unit had been housed at the aging former flour mill on Northwest Naito Parkway and Ninth Avenue since 2001.
The fate of the mounted patrol became a campaign issue in 2016 when mayoral candidate Jules Bailey — who lost the election — promised to restore officer positions to the unit.
But it was under Mayor Ted Wheeler's watch that the end of the unit finally came about. The mounted patrol unit was disbanded in August 2017 after four decades of full-time service.
- Reporter Jim Redden contributed to this article.
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