The long barn aisle seems a little quieter today. One less soft nicker of recognition as the human counterparts of the Mounted Patrol prepare for their day. Officer John Shoopman turns to a different stall door to be greeted by his new partner, Liberty, with a nostalgic glance over his shoulder towards the stall door shrouded in a black drape. Officer Shoopman was Willie’s person, a partnership that lasted 10 years of Willie’s 11 years in service.
At nearly 24 years old, Willie had actually been ready for retirement, but his strength of service was needed during the Republican National Convention held in Cleveland, in July 2016, so he remained active duty. His warm personality made him a patrol ambassador to all his Columbus area residents, and popular especially with the children. His imposing size and spacial awareness made him the ideal police partner during crowd control measures. Willie had undergone additional training above and beyond the standard protocol, making him the “go-to” when public events got out of hand.
It’s easy to forget, as horse owners and riders, we often ask things of them we’d never think to ask of ourselves. We ask them to lead, follow, do and be, so many things that don’t seem natural, without question or hesitation. When faced with a wall of noisy humans in protest, most horses would react with fight or flight instinct. Police horses not only have to ignore that instinct, they have to have the blind faith in their rider that marching straight into that wall of people is not only okay, but necessary. They have to hear their rider’s cues above all the din, while staying alert to the chaos surrounding them. They have a job to do, regardless of their own feelings about it, just like their riders who count on them-they count on their riders in return. It’s a bond that takes time to develop, and is critical to the success of a police human and horse officer team.
When I spoke with Officer Shoopman about some of their shared experiences, he described how being a Saddlebred, a breed known for their characteristic headset and gaits, worked in their favor. Willie raising his head up created the impression of an even bigger force, one not to be messed with. His trust in Officer Shoopman coming in to play when protesters pushed against his shoulder and hips, he felt only the nudge of a heel and knew to push back and hold the line. In another story, Officer Shoopman shared Willie conveniently “took a relief break” on the head of a drunk spectator who’d been trying to intervene in an arrest during the Arnold Classic several years ago. I suspect, we could have talked for quite a while longer, reliving many of Willie’s finest moments, but the subject being such a fresh, open wound still, kept our chat short.
Willie’s illustrious career came to a close last Wednesday, when he began to exhibit symptoms of Colic. A word that despite all medical advances and modern technology, still strikes fear in the heart of every horseman. Officer Shoopman tried all the usual remedies, but found none to offer any relief to his friend, eventually deciding to transport him to the OSU Veterinary Hospital for further evaluation. An exploratory surgery presented a large tumor wrapped around his intestinal tract, which they successfully removed. That as it turns out, was the easy part. Willie struggled to recover from the surgery, and whatever damage had already been done by the tumor, but eventually lost the battle at 6:20pm that same day, and received the radio call of “End of Service” shortly after.
Willie is survived by his partner, Officer John Shoopman, his best friend, Glory, and the rest of the Mounted Patrol Officers, two and four-legged. The Columbus Division of Police shared a moving video tribute to their fallen officer, which can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FColumbusPolice%2Fvideos%2F10154241549446762%2F&show_text=0&width=560
A formal memorial service, with all due honors befitting a celebrated officer such as Willie, will be held Friday, January 27th, 1:00pm at 2609 McKinley Ave. in Columbus. The public is welcome to attend and pay their respects.