Horses’ Tribute to Duty

By Kevin Masterman, Toronto Police Service Published: 9:59 a.m. July 4, 2017

An officer who made the ultimate sacrifice on duty, a police chief who dedicated his life to public service and an organization that brings the city together to celebrate all have four-legged namesakes on patrol.

Group of people standing in front of a horse inside the stables
The Russell family (grandfatther Harold, wife Christine, son Nolan, mom Linda, dad Glenn) with Russell

Toronto Police horses Russell, Chief Blair and Blue Jay had their forelocks clipped at the Mounted Unit stable at Exhibition Place on June 30 signifying that their training is complete and they are now fit for duty.

Toronto Blue Jays President Emeritus Paul Beeston said his organization was happy to give back to the city in this way and honour the work of officers.

“As much as we’re proud of the Blue Jays we’re also proud of police, what they do, how they give back, how they comport themselves is something we like to see with our whole organization,” Beeston said. “We don’t think our police officers or horses take second best to anyone in the world. They set a standard of what we’d like to be known for – one of civility, one of calmness but at the same time a noble force.”

Blue Jay is a five-year-old Clydesdale who has won a world championship under saddle Clydesdale competition in 2015.

Former Chief Bill Blair said he was honoured to be part of the long history of the Mounted Unit in this way.

“I’m proud to see Chief Blair is a tall horse. But as well a quiet, stable, calming horse. These horses are remarkably well trained and when they arrive on the scene you can just see people are reassured by their presence,” Blair said, of the Percheron-Friesian cross that stands 17.3 hands – the tallest of the class of three horses. “Making an effort to get these horses out in the community really connects the Toronto Police Service to the kids in the community, which I think is a great thing.”

A Clydesdale is named after Sergeant Ryan Russell, who lost his life trying to stop a man in a stolen snowplow in the line of duty in 2011.

Man in a suit pets a horse inside the stables
Blue Jays President Emeritus Paul Beeston with Blue Jay after cutting off his forelock
A man holding a young girl, stands in front of a horse inside the stables
Former Chief Bill Blair with his granddaughter and namesake at the Mounted Unit stables
An elderly man standing next to a horse with a young boy atop it both surrounded by people with cameras inside the stables
Ryan Russell's grandfather Harold and son Nolan atop the Clydesdale named in his honour

His mother, Linda, said it is a fitting tribute for her son.

“Certainly it’s an honour and Ryan would be so impressed and so touched that a horse is named after him in his memory,” said Linda, who treasured the forelock of the horse the family was given as a keepsake.

She was joined by Ryan Russell’s wife Christine, son Nolan, 8, grandfather Harold and father Glenn.

“Ryan loved this job, he really did,” said Glenn, himself a retired Toronto officer. “For his namesake to continue to work on this job is fabulous for him and the entire family. There is a part of Ryan in that horse right there and we’re just thrilled.”

He thanked Superintendent Bill Neadles for the honour of naming the horse for his son.

Christine was happy to see her son get the chance to saddle up atop the horse.

“It’s just an amazing tribute and an amazing creature,” she said, noting the horse’s calm demeanour and beauty is something great to share with Nolan. “It’s such a positive thing for him.”

Staff Sergeant Graham Queen, the officer in charge of the 130-year-old unit – the oldest in the police service, said bringing families and the community to celebrate the traditions strengthens the unit.

A woman and a young boy standing in front of a horse inside the stables
Christine and Nolan Russell with Russell
A man seen from the back, wearing a baseball hat and a t-shirt with a text Police, pets a horse inside the stables
A Mounted unit officer with Blue Jay

“Traditions are really important to us,” said Queen, noting that most of them, including trimming the horse’s forelock atop their head are a cavalry tradition. The forelock was trimmed as an inexpensive and efficient symbol so that riders knew that it was an experienced, trained horse that anyone could ride.

“Our equipment, such as saddles, is based on the cavalry from hundreds of years ago because it was made so well so we continue with those things. And there are the more ceremonial traditions, which we also like to keep like the different patches on the blankets to signify who we recognizing. Traditions are very important to us,” Queen said. “When they go out to a ceremonial event the officers and horses are looking pristine, such as the Queen’s Plate this weekend, because we’re out in front of thousands of people representing the Queen and country. We go to a lot of high-profile events and we’re very visible on the road and we are ambassadors for the Service.”

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