By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
As a guy who is often compared to the back end of a horse, I had always wanted to see how the other half lives. I got a chance recently when I met Frank, the mane man at Greenlawn Equestrian Center on Long Island, N.Y., where I had gone for a horseback riding lesson.
I was very impressed with Frank, not only because he is a retired police horse who used to work for the NYPD (if a cop show were filmed in his stall, it would be called “Law & Odor”), but because he stands 16.3 hands high (5-foot-7 at the withers, though he is more than 6 feet tall at his full height) and weighs about 1,200 pounds, roughly the size of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
At 13, Frank is too old by horse standards to be chasing bad guys, but he can still outrun the fastest human, even with a police partner -- or, in my case, an eccentric equestrian -- on his back.
According to a gallop poll conducted by trainer Hannie van Kretschmar, Frank didn’t run, trot or canter during my lesson, but he did saunter, stroll and otherwise walk.
“Frank is a sweetheart,” said Hannie, 24, a proud graduate of the Lookout Mountain School of Horseshoeing in Gadsden, Ala. “He’s strong but gentle. And he has a good life here.”
“You mean he leads a stable existence?” I asked.
“Definitely,” said Hannie, adding that the same is true for all 15 of Greenlawn’s horses, who eat four times a day, have late-night snacks and get their stalls cleaned twice a day.
“They also get pedicures,” said Hannie, who keeps the horses’ nails neatly trimmed so they can hoof it on out to give people rides.
“This is like a spa,” I noted, “except it doesn’t smell like one.”
Hannie gave me a helmet (Frank didn’t need one) and led us both outside, where I stood on a platform so I could climb aboard.
Sitting atop Frank was like being in an SUV (Saddled Utility Vehicle), with bucket seating, power steering and, considering Frank’s luxurious mane, driver’s-side hair bag.
“Frank is a Thoroughbred quarter horse,” Hannie told me.
“If he had the other three-quarters, he’d be as big as an elephant,” I retorted.
“Technically,” Hannie said, “he’s a dark bay Appendix gelding.”
“Poor guy,” I said.
“The procedure helps keep males calm,” Hannie explained.
“I can just imagine,” I said, wincing at the thought.
Initially, Hannie led Frank, with me in the saddle, around a covered ring. But after giving me instructions on how to handle the horse -- tugging on the reins to steer him left or right, pulling back and using voice commands to put on the brakes, directing him around orange cones, standing in the stirrups and leaning forward in a two-point position -- Hannie let me take control of Frank myself.
“You’re doing an excellent job,” she said as she walked alongside.
“Are you talking to me or Frank?” I asked.
“Both of you,” Hannie replied.
It was clear that Frank and I had bonded. Yes, it’s a guy thing (or, in his case, a former guy thing), but we hit it off beautifully.
When the half-hour lesson was over, I dismounted without breaking a leg, in which case I would have to be shot, and told Frank he was great. He shook his head.
“You’re too modest,” I said. Then I asked Hannie if I had the potential to be an equestrian in the next Olympics.
“Maybe,” she answered. “You have three and a half years to train.”
I turned to Frank and said, “Want to go for it?”
Frank didn’t say nay.
Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima