From patrolling the streets of downtown Bethlehem to giving demonstrations at the barn, there has been no such thing as a “typical day” on the job for George.
As one of the first horses on the Bethlehem Mounted Patrol, George’s days used to consist of walking around neighborhoods, going to festivals, attending different community events and giving tours at the barn.
He’d stand for hours on end, letting people pet him. “He just seemed to enjoy it,” officer Ryan Danko of the Bethlehem Mounted Patrol said.
Danko said once he hit the “start button,” George was ready to go until he told him to stop.
But now, George is enjoying his second career.
After serving with the Bethlehem police for 10 years since 2010, the Friends of the Bethlehem Mounted Police recently donated George to Equi-librium, a nonprofit organization in Nazareth that provides equine therapy to people with physical, developmental, mental and behavioral health challenges.
Danko said some of the horses he’s retired in the past want nothing more to do with work, but George was an exception.
“He wanted to serve and he wanted to work,” Danko said. “Retirement life didn’t suit him.”
If it wasn’t for the mild case of arthritis found in his leg, Danko said George would still be on the unit.
Diane Mack, president of Friends of the Bethlehem Mounted Police, a nonprofit organization established in 2012 to take on the fundraising to acquire, train, care for and provide horses to Bethlehem Mounted Patrol Unit, said the organization was looking to rehome George.
Friends of the Bethlehem Mounted Police is 100% volunteer and community funded, and according to Mack, “the barn has been very successful because of it.”
While his more strenuous days are in the past, George’s work ethic has remained the same.
Kimberly Gapinski, the equine operations director at Equi-librium, who primarily onboarded and trained George, said, “He’s completely different from anything we have in the program currently.”
With his service background, Gapinski said he has a “very disciplined” work ethic and “as soon as you mount him, he’s ready to go to work.”
After starting his horse therapy training in December, George was fully integrated into adaptive riding lessons by the spring, Gapinski said.
Weighing just under 1,700 pounds, George is very polite and gentle despite his size, she said.
Of the horses she’s trained, Gapinski said, George was different because of his “unique personality.”
“Everything about him just demands attention and presence. … He’s the boss of the herd,” Gapinski said. “You can’t stop; when you walk past, you have to say hi.”
In addition to his strong work ethic, Gapinski said, George often loves to look at himself in the mirror because “either he knows he’s gorgeous or he’s secretly vain.”
Jessie Shappell, executive director at Equi-librium, said working with a horse like George has been a nice change for the organization.
Shappell said it’s been beneficial having George, who is the largest member of the herd now, for adult and larger riders.
“George in and of himself as a horse is very confident,” Shappell said. “He demands that respect from the volunteers and from the participants.”
Shappell said one area she finds George being particularly beneficial is with veterans. A lot of individuals who have served “tend to have that really strong connection with George right away,” she said.
“Having an animal present can help reduce those stress levels in individuals,” Shappell said. “But so much of it just comes down to the animals themselves.”
At Equi-librium, George is involved with adaptive riding lessons, also referred to as therapeutic riding, and equine-assisted yoga, according to Shappell.
“He’s a local celebrity, and everyone knows him. Everyone’s seen him,” Shappell said. “To be able to offer a home and a new career to a horse like George has been such a special experience for all of us here.”
Since having George on the farm, Gapinski said, Equi-librium has received new attention from volunteers, and his support network has followed him here.
“He has opened up so many doors for us as far as being introduced to the community in a new way,” she said. “George shed a light on what we do because everybody wants to know about him.”
Without the support of the community, Danko said, “we wouldn’t be here.”
“[George] was a staple here,” Danko said. “People will always be saying his name. … He’s one of those original names that people are going to hear 10 years from now and they’re going to remember when this started and how important he was and how impactful it was.”