A police horse who received a bravery award after being stabbed in the line of duty is continuing to represent the force into his retirement at the age of 26.
Irish Draught Wilson was bought for £800 as a three-year-old and went on to have a long and distinguished career working for the West Yorkshire Police.
His owner Kristine Wilson told H&H she hadn’t intended to buy him when she went to see the feral youngster in a scruffy field in 1996 but had ended up taking him home after parting with £800 she had won at Cheltenham races.
“On the way home from the races I was chatting with my friend in the car and he mentioned that one if his acquaintances had two large horses that were for sale,” she said. “However, he said that if I was interested I needed to look in the next few days as they were unwanted, unbroken and were going to be collected for meat imminently.
“I knew it was a bad idea, but I went to look in any case.”
She found both horses in a “sorry state” but ended up being won over by the Irish Draught, who “latched himself on to me, a bit like a Monty Roberts join up session, and followed me around”.
“It broke my heart and it was impossible to ignore so we agreed a deal if I collected him the next day for £800 – goodbye to the winnings from Cheltenham but on reflection perhaps it was exactly what was meant to be,” she said.
After managing to herd the youngster on to a borrowed cattle float, she got him home where she spent weeks working to earn his trust.
“He grew significantly both in height, body mass and confidence during the next few months and in the spring he was backed and then turned away for the winter,” she said.
The gelding, who was originally named Murphy, was then sent to Pippa Bassett — one of Britain’s top carriage drivers — to ride away.
“He returned home a reformed and rather delightful character, always a really kind horse and totally bombproof in the heaviest of traffic,” Kristine said.
Kristine enjoyed hacking him to local pubs near her home in Berkshire, where he became well known among the locals after developing a taste for Woodpecker sweet cider.
“He would drink and bottle and when he was finished, he would smack his lips together as if to say ‘I could do with another’,” she said. “It got so he absolutely refused to go past the pub unless he got a drink and this continued even when he went to Yorkshire to work for the Police, he would try and stop if he went past a pub and there were several in Leeds City Centre.”
It was Wilson’s temperament that made a career with the force a possibility when, following a divorce and a move to Norfolk, Kristine was trying to find a home for him after looking after two horses and a young son became too much.
“He was only young and it would not have been fair for him to do nothing but I was determined that he would never be sold again,” she said.
“Eventually, I decided to get him schooled on and he went to a friend, Tania Bullard (currently senior master with the West Norfolk) in Gressenhall for a few weeks.
“One day, not quite knowing what to do with him, she took it upon herself to visit Dereham Police Station to see how one went about getting a horse in to the mounted branch as she felt it would suit him.”
Lancashire Police came to look at him, but it was West Yorkshire Police who took him on for a three-month trial. If he made the cut, there was an agreement that he would return to Kristine when he retired.
“He took to this training like a duck to water and aged five he was signed up and his name changed to Wilson, after my surname,” Kristine said. “Due to his sensible and calm attitude he was soon put on patrol holding back crowds at unruly football matches at Elland Road where there was often post match unrest. He had catering packs of tomato sauce hurled at him but stood like a rock.
“He patrolled around Leeds City Centre and to this day, people still ask the mounted officers about him,” she added. “He has patrolled at Bramham Horse Trials and been involved in searches for missing persons as well as wildlife protection patrols.”
Kristine recalled the terrible moment in 2001 when she woke to news on the radio of the Bradford Riots. She heard a police horse had been stabbed and immediately called the mounted division to find out if it was Wilson that had been hurt.
“My stomach turned as they confirmed it was indeed Wilson who had been stabbed but they said that he was fine,” she said. “How anyone could do such a thing to an animal is beyond any comprehension. Luckily the injury was not too severe and he recovered.”
Wilson was sent many polos and get well cards from well-wishers and also received a Blue Cross bravery award which still hangs in the offices at the force’s Carr Gate today, alongside dramatic pictures of the riot.
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Six years ago, at the age of 21, Wilson was retired and returned to live with Kristine and a spotted Shetland companion. He is still 100% sound and continues to enjoy the occasional hack.
He also plays a significant role in the Norfolk Rural Crime unit, representing them at events. This year he attended the Royal Norfolk Show, Game and Country Fair, Holkham Country Faire, Sandringham Flower Show, the Armistice Day parade and recently escorted a funeral cortege.
“He knows when he us going out as he has a bath and gets trimmed up. He is then extremely excited about it and grabs a mouthful of hay and rushes to the stable door to see if the police lorry has arrived,” Kristine said. “He literally runs up the ramp, keen to be off.
“He loves going to events as he gets thoroughly spoilt with fuss and polos and I am pleased to report he is now teetotal!” she added.