Horses are like people — they all have distinctive personalities, and some have peculiar habits. For example, police mount Stewart, a red bay gelding with a white blaze and a roman nose, was a stargazer, which meant that he liked to travel around with his head thrown back, looking skyward. King, a golden chestnut with white mane and tail, was a ‘fiddle foot’ — he liked to dance on the spot whenever you stopped him.

As well as being a mooch, Old Major was obsessed with pawing the pavement. You would have to hold him with both hands whenever somebody passed by with a bag of groceries in their arms, especially if he smelled apples or carrots. He would start nickering in a pleading tone and often people who knew him would give him a treat. Whenever you stopped him at an intersection he would become impatient while waiting for the light to change and start pawing the pavement. If there was a bunch of kids on the sidewalk waiting for the light I would shout as I reined him in, “How old are you, Major?” and he would start pawing. He was usually about twenty by the time the light changed and we moved on.

Some of the habits the horses acquired were amusing, but others were downright annoying. Take for example, Joe — he was a nudger. Every time you tried to groom him or put his bridle on, he would persistently bump you with his nose. There was nothing he liked better than to pin you up against a stall wall and lovingly nudge the hell out you. It didn’t matter who you were or what you did to avoid it, he would have his nose up against you nuzzling away; even if you gave him a push he would just look startled and hurt for a second or two and then be right back at it.

He wasn’t much to look at: just a plain old bay with a white star on his forehead, but once you got him tacked up and were on his back, he was a pleasure to ride because he was fearless. Nothing bothered him, not buses or streetcars or trains or motorcycles; he was immune to the things that terrified many of the other horses.

A newspaper clipping.One rainy evening I was out on Joe patrolling south on Yonge St., Toronto’s main drag. I was wearing my big black rain coat which covered me and draped over Joe’s rump, keeping the better part of both of us dry. We stopped for a while and I let the reins hang loosely over Joe’s neck while I took in the scene. There were few people on the street and the pavement was glazed and shining like black ice. I was looking up and marvelling at how the red tail lights of the cars were reflected, caught and then seemed to travel along the overhead trolley lines when I was shaken out my reverie by someone shouting at me from the nearby doorway of a drugstore.

“Help! They robbed me! They robbed me!” He was pointing at two men who were running down the opposite side of the street about half a block away. I gathered up my reins, dug my heels into Joe’s flanks and we were off like a shot. In a matter of seconds we had overtaken the slower of the two men and cornered him in a store doorway. I swung down out of the saddle. The man tried to dodge by me but I managed to shove him up against the store’s big window while I fumbled through my rain cape to get at my handcuffs. They snagged on the inside of the coat and I had to look down for a second or two to free them. When I looked up again, the man I was holding had pulled a large butcher knife and was levelling it at my chest.

Just then Joe, who had been standing patiently at my side, took a step forward and nudged the man firmly, pinning him against the window. The man, shocked and terrified, threw his arms in the air, dropped the knife and screamed, “Okay! Okay! Okay! Call him off, please!”

I cuffed the man’s arms around a lamppost, swung up on Joe and chased the second man down the centre of Yonge St. He had a gun in his hand and wheeled around once or twice, pointing it at me. It was the first time I ever drew my own gun on the job but thankfully, I didn’t have to use it because just then he ducked into an alleyway where we couldn’t follow and he got away.

I caught up with and arrested him about a month later, but that’s another story…