Hercules would roll in the mud or dirt every night. So, Officer Juan Restrepo knew he'd have to give his partner a bath at the department's stable before they went out on patrol. Atlanta Police Department photo.
The Atlanta Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Unit is mourning the loss of their gentle giant, Hercules.
Eighteen hands high — about 2 yards tall from the base of the neck to the ground — the Percheron and thoroughbred cross often stopped traffic in the Georgia metropolis because people wanted to stop and take photos of the towering horse.
“You'd want everyone to like the police the way they liked Hercules,” the horse’s mounted officer, Juan Restrepo, told Coffee or Die Magazine. “Just that positive relationship that the community had with him was amazing.”
Hercules was 18 and had been suffering from cancer. He’d served the mounted patrol for 16 years after Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates in Angola saddle broke him.
Officer Juan Restrepo and Hercules, the police horse, were great at being ice breakers between the public and the Atlanta Police Department. Atlanta Police Department photo.
On Friday, Aug. 26, Hercules began showing symptoms of colic, a blockage in the gut often caused by dry or coarse feed. But as his lunchtime approached, the horse stopped eating and wanted to lie down on his side.
Mounted Patrol Unit Officer Abraham Perez and Kelly Robison, the unit’s stable master, took Hercules to the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Athens. Staffers there discovered a terminal tumor was causing the colic.
Surgery to remedy the blockage would leave Hercules in terrible pain, so police officials decided to put him down.
One of Atlanta police officers Juan Restrepo and Hercules' favorite rides was a stroll through Piedmont Park and into Midtown. Atlanta Police Department photo.
“This almost felt like the closest relative I've had pass,” Restrepo told Coffee or Die. “It just feels empty. I look at his stall, and he's not there. You know, all weekend, all I was doing was going through our pictures or videos that we took together and just the goofy things we did together.”
Restrepo recalled Hercules greeting him every morning before duty covered in mud or painted orange with Georgia clay.
Before they rode out, he had to turn his brown horse white again.
Restrepo had spent four years working on Atlanta’s crime suppression crew before he met Hercules, his partner for the next four years on the force.
Hercules served the Atlanta Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit for 16 years. Atlanta Police Department photo.
Hercules was the kind of horse who was easily spooked. And Restrepo had no previous equestrian experience before he hooked up with Hercules. But they figured it all out together.
“So our first almost six months to a year was a challenge because it was a lot of him jumping at everything and me having to kind of wrestle with him to get him through a lot of that stuff, things that he was scared of,” Restrepo said. “But you know, with time, he started getting better.”
Their favorite patrol took them through Piedmont Park into bustling Midtown. It was the perfect route for meeting people.
“They can see, ‘Oh, wow, this police officer is just like us. He's a normal person. He can crack jokes on his horse,’ and it just really opens the door to having a relationship with the community,” Restrepo said.
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Joshua Skovlund has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis that followed the death of George Floyd. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he earned his CrossFit Level 1 certificate and worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. He went on to work in paramedicine for more than five years, much of that time in the North Minneapolis area, before transitioning to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion, where he publishes poetry focused on his life experiences.
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