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November 04. 2012 8:27PM

Visit from mounted police inspires Manchester school children to action


Barrett O'Neil, 7, talks about the Easter-themed contest entry he made which will help to benefit Manchester Police's Mounted Patrol Unit at Weston School in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)


Mckenna Schneiderman, 7, shows off her Easter egg contest entry which will helpt to benefit Manchester Police's Mounted Patrol Unit at Weston School in Manchester on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - When the Manchester Police Department visited the Weston School on Hanover Street last year as part of the Cops and Kids program, they brought their all-terrain vehicles, their motorcycles, the SWAT vehicle and the mounted unit horses.

Principal Liz MacDonald said the kids loved it. The officers talked about how the equipment is used and the kids got to climb on and in it. "The police are just wonderful about it," said MacDonald.

Barrett O'Neil, 7, said he liked the motorcycles best, especially seeing them riding around, but MacDonald said many of the youngsters fell in love with the horses.

Daylee Maxham, 7, was among the horse lovers. "They are very fuzzy," she said.

It was explained that the horses live at the Youth Development Center for free and the remaining costs, including the purchase of the new horse, Jerry, are covered by sponsors and donations.

The only cash costs to the MPD are horseshoes and veterinarian bills and Capt. Rick Reilly, who heads the community policing division, said the horses are well maintained.

"They are very healthy horses," Reilly said. "They are the best-cared-for horses in New England."

Art teacher Heather Roy and physical education teacher Lynne LaCascia thought of a way for the children to give back to the community - especially the horses - and to have fun doing it.

And so the Thanksgiving turkey feather and Easter egg contests began, with the students creating paper feathers and eggs.

Roy said every class chose how it would participate, some with everyone doing an individual feather or egg, others doing group feathers and eggs. Even teachers were invited to participate.

The idea was to have students vote on their favorites, at 25 cents a vote.

Some children dug into their allowances to be able to vote.

Mckenna Schneiderman, 7, had a class winner of an Easter egg. "They picked the one that was the best," she said, holding up her contribution to the contest.

The students raised $345, which was presented to the Mounted Unit last month. Horses Jerry and Valor, and their riders, Officers Scott Tardiff and Marc Lachance, made a return visit to Weston to accept the donation.

Reilly said he appreciates what the students did. "They should be proud," said Reilly, who said the student donation will pay for two months of hay for the horses.

Reilly said there are periodic complaints about the time officers spend with and on the horses, man hours that some complain could be used for patrols and other duties.

But Reilly said the officers spend their 40-hour week on foot or vehicle patrol in their assigned downtown area when they are not on horseback.

As for Jerry and Valor, Reilly said: "These are not just parade and show animals."

The horses, and their riders, are high-visibility signs of a police presence, said Reilly, often out at night at the Verizon Wireless Arena, overseeing the downtown nightclub scene and other potential problem areas. Their presence can keep problems from developing.

After all, these are 1,800-pound animals - as heavy as a Volkswagen said Reilly - and can be a crime deterrent or a public confidence builder by their very presence.

But that's not what the Weston students were thinking about when they decided to raise money for a donation. Second-grader O'Neil said: "I think they should have hay. It's good to help them out."

dvincent@unionleader.com


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