THERE'S NO HORSIN' AROUND.
I was raised in Indiana, so every once in a while I feel the need to escape the concrete pathways and smog of L.A. and walk on some dirt and breathe in the friendly familiar aroma of horse manure. It is an acquired pleasure, I'll grant you, but compared to the stuff usually shoveled by City Hall, horse manure smells like the caviar of public relations handouts.
And that's why last Saturday I went to the Los Angeles Police Department Mounted Platoon's open house - to see some cops in cowboy hats and breathe some fresh air.
Back in the late 1980s, many people felt the Los Angeles Police Department needed an equestrian patrol. But rather than attempt to maneuver the idea through the swamp that is City Hall, Robert H. Ahmanson - yes, one of those Ahmansons, who have contributed so much that this city is so proud of - found a run-down barn sitting on two acres just south of the Griffith Park golf course, in the Atwater section of town. Then, rather than waiting four years for the red tape to pile up before the city could purchase the property, he bought it himself and turned it into one of the most impressive equestrian facilities around: a 40-horse barn complete with two horse-washing stalls, offices, tack room, locker room and covered arena.
It became the kind of place where the elite on four feet meet. Then Ahmanson donated the finished product directly to the Los Angeles Police Department.
And that is how important things get done quickly in City Hall. They don't.
On Saturday they put Ahmanson's gift on display, celebrating the 15th year of the LAPD equestrian unit. The horses and riders strode into the McGills arena two-by-two, calm and confident, following the cavalry drill book, answering to the same commands issued in 1863 at Brandy Station and at Little Big Horn in 1876.
And no unit in the Old West ever executed those drills any finer. They were grand to watch, backs straight, heads held high and eyes and ears alert.
The humans where impressive, too. Those disciplined caballeros and caballos wheeled in unison, and in one maneuver, eight human volunteers from the audience were quickly surrounded and safely neutralized, though I suspect some of the volunteers were family members of the officers and far from neutral.
In a screaming mass of non-neutral humans frantically waving signs and flags, horse and rider must remain calm in order to instill calm. And I found myself marveling at the wonder of a horse, an herbivore, a prey animal, a grass eater, a creature who runs to breathe and to escape, acting for all the world like a predator.
Not that cops are predators, but when violence explodes, most horses, like most humans, tend to head the other way, while cops and predators rush toward the violence - the predator to take advantage, the cop to stop advantage from being taken. And these horses are trained to act like cops.
Of course some horses seem to take to this work better than others. One of the LAPD's four-legged finest named Boomer displays a ``tendency to nibble,'' according to the announcer at the open house. However, according to the sign next to his stall, Boomer doesn't nibble, ``He Bites.'' I just hope that Boomer is covered by the Justice Department's Consent Decree.
But there is more to the equestrian unit than just crowd control and patrols on the beach. People are attracted to a cop on a horse in a way they are not to a patrol car. The horse helps put a human face on the LAPD.
What makes this a little odd is that these horses are not owned by the LAPD. They are bought and paid for, trained and maintained by the Los Angeles Police Equestrian Fund, an independent nonprofit organization outside the authority of the LAPD and City Hall bureaucracies. The fund's only purpose is to support the people who actually perform a service for the citizens of this city, which makes it fundamentally different from any city department.
If you're interested, send your tax-deductible donations to the fund at 3934 Rigali St., Los Angeles, 90039, or call (213) 485-5909.
And you can be certain that not a dime of your money will go to the production of any manure by City Hall.