by Hope Holland
Once upon a time, New York City Police Officer Eddie Mendez and a friend went to New Mexico to participate in a cattle drive. Officer Mendez did not come back with a calf but he did come back with the knowledge that he wanted to spend his police career in the mounted division of his police department.
And that is the beginning of the real story of how Officer Mendez became a mounted policeman in the heart of New York City and got a partner named Mr. McQuade, a 16:2 bay gelding, known as Big Mac. At the time that Officer Mendez met Mac, the gelding was already an experienced police horse and Mac didn’t waste a lot of time teaching his new partner the ropes of working with a horse that knew his business.
According to now-retired Officer Mendez, “He would just drag me around when I tried to lead him and if I wanted to go left he just went right. I learned a lot very quickly about dealing with a determined horse that outweighed me by about 1,000 pounds. I realized that I needed to figure out how to get this horse to understand that I was supposed to be in charge up there.”
New York City has a reputation of its own as a tough city and Mac and Officer Mendez did their share of crowd control.
Eddie Mendez said one of the things that Mac did best was to move sideways away from his leg and simply keep on moving, herding the swathe of humans beside him along as he went. As Eddie Mendez said, “One of the things that Mac was really good at was what we called ‘clearing corners’. If you put him on a corner and just put your leg on him he would do a 360° turn and that corner would just be completely free of human beings.”
The ability to see from the back of a 16:2 horse was also key to keeping unruly humans in some sort of order without undue loss of life or injury as well. In its own way, it was the next best thing to a helicopter, at least for local width of vision.
But on the good days, which were in the majority, Big Mac and Officer Mendez made a lot of friends for New York’s finest.
“I can remember that when we left the stable and came on down 42nd Street to Times Square, Mac would just prance all the way down. He felt good and he was showing off for the crowds. And the people liked him. He might be tough in a pinch but he was always a total gentleman with the little kids. They could walk right under his belly and he wouldn’t move an inch,” Mendez said. “But he did have a sense of humor! He liked to steal hats. He would reach out and take one off some man’s head and just hold it way up in the air so that he couldn’t get it back. After a couple of minutes I would give a touch on the reins so that he would lower his head and the guy could get his hat back.”
Ice cream cones and even hot dogs were a dietary addition of Big Mac’s if they were held at just the right height. And according to Eddie Mendez, the big horse felt that they tasted better if they were filched instead of offered.
“When he took a hot dog, no one argued with him,” he said, “but they would ask me, ‘Hey, I thought horses were supposed to be vegetarians’ and I would say, ‘You know, I haven’t sat him down and worked that out with him.’”
Life was not all hot dogs, hats and ice cream cones, though. When New York suffered a black out, Eddie Mendez got called to duty at 2 a.m. He got there and saddled up, but as he passed the corner of 11th Avenue and 42nd Street near the police horse stables, someone had put a flare out and Mac spooked at the fiery object and headed back to the stable.
Eddie was unseated and went off to the side of the big horse with one foot still caught in the stirrup.
“I still had the reins in my hand,” he recalled. “But I was caught by that one foot and we had about 50 yards of rough riding there. Even as it happened I realized that not only my helmet but also my protective vest was what was saving me…I got pulled along with my one shoulder on the ground and it was the vest that was taking all the punishment.”
Eddie Mendez retired after 24 years and two months, and he was with Big Mac for 16 of those years. When the business owner who purchased Mac for the city offered to purchase another horse, Mac was retired to a farm in Abbottstown, PA. After the contract with that farm was cancelled and many of the horses were moved to another farm, Eddie heard about it and stepped up to make sure that Mac would have his own retirement with a smaller farm that offered more personal care.
For the next several years, Eddie Mendez paid the board at the farm and, whenever possible, he and his wife, Liz, would make the trip to visit Mac, often bringing big bags of carrots and, in the good weather, taking the time to give Mac the baths which he very much enjoyed.
But all good things have to come to an end. After 10 years of retirement, on April 23, 2018, Big Mac went “end of watch”, which is police vernacular for an officer dying. Eddie Mendez and Liz went to the farm from New York City to say goodbye and Mac was humanely destroyed. The big horse had achieved the advanced age of 33 in good health but at the end he was failing. He died surrounded by people who loved him and will miss him.