Nfld. & Labrador

Handing over the reins: RNC's horse force gets 2 new Clydesdales

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is adding two new horses to its mounted unit — Dobbin II and Castle.

Chief says RNC's mounted unit is about equine therapy, not just law enforcement

Two horses have been donated to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary's mounted unit on Thursday. The unit now has four horses in its stable. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is adding two new Clydesdales to its mounted unit — Dobbin II and Castle.

Dobbin II was donated by the Dobbin family in memory of businessman Craig Dobbin, former CEO of CHC Helicopters, who died in 2006, while Castle was donated by engineer and businessman Jim Zaleski of Logy Bay.

"It's funny — we have a ranch in Santa Barbara and I don't have any horses there. So we finally bought a horse and I owned it for like two minutes," said Zaleski.

Zaleski and his wife fell in love with Newfoundland in 1980 after visiting family who had relocated to the province, so in 1999 they bought a plot of land off Marine Drive in Logy Bay to build a vacation home near their family.

RNC Chief Joe Boland says the mounted unit is used for more than than crowd control and parades. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Many might know it as the castle house in Logy Bay — the inspiration for the name of the donated horse.

"We started having fundraisers and things like that, and the best one we ever had was with the RNC. They'd bring their horses over," Zaleski said. 

Zaleski said over the course of four or five years, and several fundraisers, he and his family got to know the RNC quite well, and each time the RNC would bring the mounted unit. 

After hearing about the death of RNC police horse Dobbin last year, Zaleski knew immediately he wanted to make a donation. When the force found a new horse, they asked Zaleski to name it.

"So we named it Castle," he said.

Jim Zaleski donated Castle to the RNC's mounted unit on Thursday. The name comes from a vacation home he built in Logy Bay. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

What began as a branch of the police force used for crowd control, search and rescue, evidence gathering, parades and ceremonies has shifted to a more relaxed role. 

"Over the last number of years we've focused a lot on equine therapy and dealing with mental health and addictions," said RNC Chief Joe Boland.

Equine-assisted therapy involves interacting and spending time with horses to promote physical and mental health.

Boland said this is the first police-led equine therapy program in the country.

"That really came from a partnership with Stella's Circle, with Lisa Browne and the Avalon Equestrian Club," he said.

So far the RNC's equine therapy program has helped about 15 people through Stella's Circle. Boland said the program is trying to reach more people by working with the psychiatric unit of the Health Sciences Centre and first responders. 

All RNC mounted unit horses have been donated by sponsors. Boland says the horses cost about $50,000 annually in total. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

He said the program is about looking ahead for ways to help during a mental health crisis.

"Incarceration is not the answer. We don't think it's the answer. Nobody in this community really thinks it's the answer," he said.

"We're a police service, but we have an opportunity here to do something different and we're certainly going to try." 

Donations

Each horse in the mounted unit has been donated by a sponsor.

Before Thursday morning's passing of the reins ceremony, the RNC had two Percherons in its mounted unit — one named Harvey, donated by A. Harvey & Company, and Dr. Rich, donated by former N.L. lieutenant-governor Frank Fagan and Patricia Fagan in memory of their son, Dr. Richard Fagan, who died in 2012 of cancer.

The original RNC mounted unit was founded in 1873 and disbanded in 1951. The last mounted police officers from that time were Cyril Leaman, Harvey Moores, W. Yetman and Vince Noonan.

Honorary Inspector William A. Bradley provided a voluntary mounted unit for the force prior to the reformation of the unit in 2003, after Bradley's continued support and that of the community and corporate financial assistance, according to the RNC.

In 2007 the mounted unit's stable officially opened on the grounds of Government House. 

The newest additions to the unit were sourced from Ontario and trained in Prince Edward Island before being moved to their new home as part of the RNC.

Boland said it took two years to find the new Clydesdales, Dobbin II and Castle, to fit the temperament requirements for the horse therapy program.

The annual cost of upkeep for all four horses is roughly $50,000, Boland said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn

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