Nassau County’s Mounted Police Unit in early 2021. Pepper, a horse...

Nassau County’s Mounted Police Unit in early 2021. Pepper, a horse that joined the unit later that year, has been cut from the team. Credit: Danielle Silverman

A horse is a Nassau County horse, of course, until it isn't.

The same afternoon this month that the Nassau County Legislature approved a pay increase agreement with its Police Benevolent Association, a horse in the county’s mounted police unit — Pepper — was relieved of his assignment.

A new horse, Scout, is taking the bit.

Legislators on Feb. 6 took the official action of exchanging Pepper for another horse “that is better suited for police work … at an equivalent value" of $13,000, according to legislative records.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Pepper, a horse that joined Nassau County's Mounted Police Unit in September 2021, has been deemed unfit for the work.
  • Scout, a horse from Indian Head Ranch in Central Islip, will replace Pepper.
  • Police haven't give specifics about why Pepper didn't work out, but assured county legislators the horse will get good care at his new home on the ranch.

Police officials have had little to say about the reasons for the switch.

Richard LeBrun, a police department spokesman, told Newsday: "After substantial training, Pepper did not meet the standards, requirements and qualifications to be considered for our mounted unit."

Pepper will be "replaced by Scout, which is of equivalent value."

Pepper joined the unit in September 2021 when the Nassau County Police Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the department financially, donated him.

More than a year later, it appears Pepper did not make the cut.

"Following a trial period with the Department's Mounted Unit it has been determined that Pepper is not suited for police work," read the resolution the Rules Committee approved at the legislative meeting.

Nassau Police Inspector William Field, who briefed the committee, did not provide a specific reason for the horse swap. 

"Some horses are more suitable to the training and the actual operations of the police mounted unit," Field told legislators.

The horse needs to be able to manage a "couple of things, dealing with crowds, handling loud noises, being able to take direction and things like that," Field said.

Indian Head Ranch in Central Islip provided Scout to the department in exchange for Pepper, who will be sent to the ranch.

Pepper came from another horse farm, said Indian Head founder and owner Wayne Dougal.

Dougal's farm — in Huntington for many years until recently — has been providing the county and other police departments horses for several decades.

"They use them for crowd control, they're great for public relations. People love horses," Dougal told Newsday.

"One cop on a horse is worth 10 on the ground," Dougal said. "I've been supplying these horses; they like horses that are quiet, that are not going to spook. They're not afraid of traffic. They have to be handy enough to do whatever they ask."

Reports commissioned by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that runs Nassau's finances, have urged Nassau twice to end its decades-old Mounted Police Unit.

A 2017 report commissioned by NIFA said Nassau could save more than $584,000 a year by closing the division.

"The unit is not a mandated service," auditors wrote, and "is primarily used for crowd control and security during public events."

Public safety officers can "provide the same level of security at a far lower expense given the high costs of housing and maintenance associated with horses."

The horses are a significant help to police patrols at shopping malls, festivals, protests, schools and other major events, LeBrun told Newsday.

Officers riding them are highly visible to the public and have a better view into crowds, including at UBS Arena and Nassau Coliseum, where they are frequently stationed.

Perplexed county legislators did not know what to make of the horse swap.

"So it's a bad horse?" asked Nassau Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove). "Where's the bad horse going to go?"

"I'm sure he'll be well taken care of," Field said.

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