Ted Waddell | Democrat
PICTURED IN FULL riding gear at Swamp Fox Farm horse barn are, from the left: Deputies Debra Hall, Jennifer Wowk, Joseph Gagliardo and Sgt. Luis Alvarez.
Deputies Saddle Up; Mounted Patrol New In Sullivan County
By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO September 4, 2007 When he was a kid growing up in Puerto Rico, Luis Alvarez used to ride a horse to get from one side of a river to the other.
In the wake of the Flash Flood of 2007, a wall of water that roared down out of the mountains to devastate Roscoe/Colchester and claim four lives, the sergeant with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department recalled that in his native country, horses were often used to rescue people in floods, as they could often get through terrain that blocked 4x4 emergency vehicles.
One thing led to another, and Sheriff Michael Schiff gave the nags the nod and for the first time since anyone can remember, the sheriff’s department had a mounted patrol.
They got their first official outing during the 79th Annual Sullivan County Volunteer Firefighters Association (SCVFA) Parade in Liberty on August 11 as part of a mounted color guard passing in review before the judges.
Sgt. Alvarez carried the American Flag aboard Nugget, Deputy Jennifer Wowk rode Shamani, while horse handler Pat Costello led Titanium, a riderless horse as a tribute to the nation’s fallen heroes.
Patrol Deputy Debra Hall led the color guard accompanied by her border collie Skylar, a savvy canine trained to keep an eye on the horses.
Before the parade, one hoof had to be put in front of the other, so Sgt. Alvarez contacted Bonnie Cunningham, owner of Swamp Fox Farm outside Kenoza Lake and shortly thereafter corralled Crickett Hallem as a horse trainer.
“We thought it would be a good idea to have horses in parades,” said Cunningham, who donated the use of her horses.
To get the mounted patrol ready for the parade, Sheriff Michael Schiff and Undersheriff Eric Chaboty ponied up a few bucks, Alvarez found some old riot helmets in the basement (painted black and white to match the department’s “new look” patrol vehicles by the county’s DPW), the Villa Roma paid for some special horse shoes, and the deputies paid for their own equipment.
“The whole office is involved,” said Alvarez, noting the new mounted patrol has representatives from patrol (himself and Hall), civil (Joseph Gagliardo) and Wowk from corrections.
Hall joined the corrections division in 1996 and three years later switched over to road patrol.
“It’s exciting, it’s different and we’ll see how it works out,” she said of the mounted patrol. “It enhances community relations with the sheriff’s department.”
Wowk signed up with corrections a year ago.
Her take on the new mounted patrol?
“I think it’s a good opportunity to do something different, and it brings the whole department closer, we’re all working together.”
Gagliardo joined in 2001, first working in the jail before transferring to the civil division.
“It’s something deputies don’t do very often, and once it gets into full force, it will be very helpful in large events and the people really like it,” he said. “We’re doing it for the people in the county.”
Hallem is a professional horse trainer who used to ride with the “world famous Lipizzaner Stallions.”
In preparation for the annual SCVFA Parade, she put riders and their steeds through their paces for “the worst possible scenario horses have to be 100 percent confident in chaos,” a training session featuring sirens (Protection Hose Company #1 of Jeffersonville firefighting apparatus, along with patrol vehicles), exploding firecrackers, waving flags and balloons, and walking on tarps and past crime scene tape.
During the parade they encountered but survived, a couple of surprises: passing underneath a huge American Flag suspended over the road, which was billowing in the breeze, and the sudden appearance of a photographer wearing a big floppy sun bonnet leaping out from the crowd to snap a pic.
“I think the people absolutely loved it,” Hallem said of the parade.
The Sullivan County Sheriff Department was founded in 1809, and in 2009 will be celebrating its 200th anniversary.
The new mounted patrol is scheduled to participate in the 17th annual Von Steuben’s Parade in Yulan on Saturday, September 22.