A Stable Presence

Wiley Wainwright keeps police officers' horses looking spiffy -- for duty and, sometimes, for the camera.

August 20, 2005|By Algerina Perna and Joe Burris | Algerina Perna and Joe Burris,SUN STAFF

You see them occasionally in downtown Baltimore: mounted police officers on shiny-coat horses that clip-clop among densely populated areas in need of crowd control.

What you don't see is people like Wiley Wainwright, one of three horse caretakers, or hostlers, at the Baltimore Police Mounted Unit who make certain the horses' coats are as neat and polished as the uniforms of the officers who mount them.

A Memphis, Tenn., native, Wainwright, 68, has worked as a hostler at the Baltimore Mounted Police Unit for 25 years. He washes the animals twice a day, feeds them and cleans their stalls.

There was a time, he said, when the unit was composed of 25 officers and three hostlers. Now there are six officers, six horses.

"It's not too hard now," added Wainwright.

Wainwright is part of a long tradition of a division of Baltimore law enforcement that dates to 1888; the unit was formed to chase speedsters at a time when the speed limit for horse-drawn vehicles was 6 mph.

Before the mounted unit, Wainwright worked as a groom at Pimlico Race Course as well as tracks in Florida and New Orleans.

In 25 years, he has seen 20 sergeants and scores of horses come and go. He refers to the horses as "nags," forgoing their personal names (Barney, Paul, Wiley, Titan, Flair and Butch).

Some of his most memorable moments on the job: the weekend of the 2000 Army-Navy game, played at Ravens stadium, when the horses had to share quarters with the Army's mules, and the time during the mid-1990s he and about 10 officers were snowed in at the unit with the horses for about five days.

And then there was the time Wainwright was featured with one of the horses in an episode of the Baltimore-based TV series Homicide: Life on the Street.

"I had a horse called Frank that I had to lead in and out of the stall about 20 times," he said.

Sgt. John Ambrose, who runs the unit, said that one mounted officer is equivalent to 10 officers on foot because the horses enable officers to see above crowds.

"It's great for crowd control," he added. "We can get close up and personal with people because the horses are very approachable."

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