Reining In Dream Job

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 5:09 p.m. April 9, 2015
Updated: 12:24 p.m. May 11, 2015

Sergeant Julie Wilson has realized a dream and career goal at once.

Police officers in dress and mounted unit uniforms on horses.
Officers of the mounted unit participate in the Musical Ride as part of their graduation ceremony. The Musical Ride was revived for the first time in 22 years.

Five days before last Christmas, she was accepted as a Mounted officer and graduated from training on April 9, along with seven other officers.

“That was the best Christmas present I have been given,” said Wilson, who joined the Service 15 years ago. “I have always wanted to combine policing and horse riding which are my two passions.”

Five years ago, she bought two retired Standardbred horses. 

“I knew I wanted this, so today is the culmination of a lot of hard work.”

Starting her policing career at 41 Division, Wilson was transferred to 43 Division, where she was promoted and assigned to 33 Division.

She and the rest of the graduates will return to their Divisions while they wait for the call that there has been an opening at Mounted.

“I just can’t wait for that call to come,” she said. “I am so excited.”

Constable Jack Porter, who has been with the Service for nine years, has always appreciated the animals he will now get to work with on a daily basis.

“They are awesome animals and I always wanted the opportunity to ride one. I work downtown a lot, so I see the Service’s horses in action and they are simply amazing.”

Porter, who started his career at 13 Division, before being temporarily assigned to TAVIS, said the 15-week training was extremely challenging.

“For me, the toughest part was having an animal this big and trying to keep it under control,” he said. “They are very sensitive, so you have to sit on them properly and apply the proper aids to get them to react.”

I knew I wanted this, so today is the culmination of a lot of hard work

An officer unmounted uniform standing beside a horse while a girl sits on it.
Sergeant Julie Wilson with a family member.

Constable Ilana Gavaller was beaming at her graduation.

“I have been dreaming of this day long before I became a police officer,” said Gavaller, who joined the organization six years ago and has been at 32 Division her entire career. “It’s so amazing to work with such beautiful animals. Even though the training was a bit difficult, I was happy to come to work every day.”

For the first time in 22 years, the Musical Ride was revived and incorporated into this year’s graduation ceremony.

Superintendent William Wardle was the sergeant in charge of the last musical ride at the 1993 graduation ceremony.

“It was originally started as a way for the cavalry to train in a fun way,” said the current 54 Division unit commander and long-time Mounted officer, who attended the graduation. “Music was added and people would come out and see the performances. All of the skills that officers and horses learn in a musical ride have a direct application to policing. It’s a way to train officers in a manner that instills teamwork and precision.”

The musical ride was nearly 25 minutes.

“It took a tremendous amount of work on the part of the officers to perfect the ride and I am extremely proud of them,”  noted Staff Sergeant Graham Queen.

Sergeant Kristopher McCarthy conducted the training.

“When the recruits came to us 15 weeks ago, they were very green,” he recalled. “We walked them around on the back of a horse so they could become familiar with how the animal moves, before we moved on to the trot and canter. They were also taught how to do lateral movements, side passages and jumps. I am so proud of how far they have come.”

Four of the eight graduates were women and almost half of the 40 Toronto Police riders are women.

Queen is not surprised that more women are gravitating to the Mounted Unit.

“In the horse world, a large percentage of the riders are women,” he said. “Before coming into the training program, we judge the applicants and most of the women are better riders. You have to go with those who have skill.”

Chief Bill Blair presented the certificates to the graduates on his 61st birthday.

“It’s particularly important for me to be here this morning, at the Horse Palace with the Mounted Unit, for this graduation,” said Blair. “My dad was a cop, so I have grown up in the family of the Toronto Police Service and my proudest memory throughout my entire life was the officer of the Mounted Unit on a horse serving the people of Toronto. It’s a memory I have from being a little boy.”

Mounted officers presented a birthday cake to Blair, who retires from the Service on April 25.

The other graduates were Sergeant Branko Novinc and Constables Stacey Jennings, John Bayes, John Porter and Adam Watson. Constable Denise Leonard of the Hamilton Police Service also graduated.

12 officers on horses, with two chief's of police standing in front.
The official graduating class along with members of the Mounted Unit, Chief Blair and Chief of the Hamilton Police Service Glen De Caire.
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