Penguins parade has horses on duty

More than 600,000 people turned out to watch Penguins parade through the streets of Downtown, but other animals also attracted cheers from the crowd.

Horses named Olivia, Brando, Milo and Henry marched with the Allegheny County Police Mounted Unit on Wednesday. They were calm and regal, walking in precision, four abreast. They were not spooked by loud cheers, police motorcycles, or air-borne pieces of black and gold confetti shot out of guns.

This year, the county horses rode at the end of the parade, not far behind Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and the shiny silver Stanley Cup. Twenty state police horses also took part. 

“The horses love the parade. They are people pleasers,” said Sgt. Wes McClellan, unit commander of the Allegheny County Mounted Unit.

Children and adults always cheer for the horses at public appearances, said senior patrol Officer Christopher Swanson. Officers gave permission to people who asked to pet the horses and take “selfies” with them.

“The horses love the attention,” said Sgt. McClellan. “If you scratch Henry’s head, he will nuzzle you, and when you stop he will nudge you to try to get you to keep doing it.”

Henry, 16, is a Belgian draft horse, chestnut-colored with a flaxen mane and tail. He was ridden by Sgt. Mike Horgan on Wednesday.

Officer Swanson rode Livy, 5,  a black Percheron mare.

Brando, ridden by Kristine Thornton, stood out in the crowd as the only gray horse in the parade. He was donated by a person who rescued him from abuse and neglect and is thought to be between 13 and 16 years old.

Milo, 8, was ridden by Jason Donaldson. Milo’s mother was a draft horse, and his father was an Appendix-registered quarter horse, which means his father’s breeding lines include thoroughbreds.

It’s no accident that draft horses were picked for parade duty. Draft horses “have great disposition and are good in crowds. They do not spook at much of anything,” Sgt. McClellan said.

The draft horse breeds — including Clydesdales  — are very strong because they were bred to work all day, plowing fields or pulling heavy loads and carriages. Draft horses and half-drafts are becoming increasingly popular with pleasure riders who enjoy their comfortable and smooth gaits, especially the trot.

Draft horses are much bigger and heavier than quarter horses, Arabians and other breeds generally used for riding. Henry weighs 2,300 pounds, while riding horses  generally range from 800-1,200 pounds. 

Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said there are 13 officers and 11 horses in the mounted unit. 

“They are donated to us, traditionally, including standardbreds and thoroughbreds” from race tracks. They live in the Round Barn at the fairgrounds in South Park. 

When the 90-minute victory parade ended, the day was not done for the horses. They stood at attention in a straight line with the state horses. They followed the players bus, then turned left and were ridden, single file, in the bicycle lane across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which slowed motorists. Pedestrians stopped to watch the unusual sight. Their trailer was waiting for them on West General Robinson Street, two blocks past PNC Park.

Livy, Henry, Milo, Brando and the other Allegheny County horses make many public appearances in Pittsburgh, including Light-Up Night, First Night, the Regatta and  Kenny Chesney concerts, Sgt. McClellan said. The horses and officers also do meet-and-greets at school, where a Tennessee walker named Ginger “is the star.”

The mounted unit does crowd control, and six horses went to the Stanley Cup celebration on the South Side last Sunday, Sgt. McClellan said. The crowd was well-behaved, and some asked to pet the horses. 

Allegheny County is looking for a few good horses to be donated because five horses are retiring later this year. Good homes have been found for all of them, including two going back to the people who donated them. One is going to the county’s Round Hill Farm.

Police are looking for horses that are big, sound and quiet. Geldings — neutered males — are preferred. Send email to for more information. 

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 413-263-3064.

First Published June 17, 2017 12:11 AM