“Officer! Officer!  What’s your horse’s name?” Of the over 36 million annual visitors to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., it’s the #1 question tourists ask a mounted police officer. Officer Ken Leonas happily replied to the little girl, “His name is Cayson.” Beaming with pride and love for his charge and their job, Officer Leonas and his hefty, quiet Percheron/Thoroughbred cross were happy to oblige the youngster’s request for the perfect “Cayson and me” selfie.

Officer Leonas and fellow officers Jennifer Swope (on Remy), Janet Kim (on Tino) and T.C. Gordon (on Trooper) had the pleasure of opening the 2nd Annual District Cup this past Saturday played at Potomac Park.

The polo community is small, but worldwide, and very supportive of good causes especially if it benefits the horse. The Trust for the National Mall campaign to Rebuild the U.S. Park Police Horse Stables was established to raise $13 million from private philanthropy for new facilities to house up to 20 horses. Currently, less than half can be kept at the stables. New plans include at least four paddocks, offices for the policemen, new roadways and pedestrian pathways, and public exhibit space, all within a secure area. Being able to welcome tourists is a priority, but most importantly, the officers and their horses will have a first-class facility befitting their role as ambassadors of the city.

Established in 1934, the United States Park Police Horse Mounted Unit is one of the oldest police equestrian units in the U.S. The unit expanded over the decades to patrol and provide protection in the Washington metropolitan area, as well as New York and San Francisco after modestly starting with one rented hire from a local stable. Temporarily built in 1976 in preparation for the millions visiting during the bicentennial, the location proved to be ideal to monitor the pedestrian areas of the Mall.

Horses were found to be highly effective in crowd and traffic management as well as instilling the public’s perception of a friendly presence. Officers say one mounted officer is equivalent to ten police officers on foot. With an average height of 17 hands and most being draft crosses, an officer has a hawk’s eye view of the scene as well as maneuverability through narrow spaces. The participation in parades and city events is always a highlight of any day.

Over the week, 650 guests watched three days of polo: the Beverly Cup (hosted by Bill Ballhaus and Darrin Mollett’s Beverly Equestrian Polo), the Cultural Cup (hosted by Nelson and Breanna Gunnell’s Banbury Cross Polo), and the District Cup. Saturday’s second match vying Team Mexico – NetJets and Team USA – Beverly Equestrian featured polo’s ambassador and arguably the most famous face of the sport, 6 Handicapper Nacho Figueras playing for Team USA. Team Mexico outplayed the USA in a very exciting game of 7-4. Afterward, players mingled and posed for photos, and together celebrated with Greenhill Winery’s Blanc de Blanc champagne.

Though most of the guests were from the DC Metro area, many Middleburgians were in attendance, most notably, our very own philanthropist Sheila Johnson, Founder/CEO of Salamander Spa and Resort. A resident of Washington and involved in many causes, she was immediately drawn to the project out of the ten or so initiatives that have been identified as a priority on the National Mall. Upon learning and seeing the deplorable conditions from being overlooked for more than 40 years since they were built, Johnson became a board member and personally committed $1 million to initiate Phase 1 of the project. She continues to be a major presence in the ongoing fundraising.

After the match ended, Officers Leonas and Gordon led a group across Independence Avenue down a path to the stables. Officer Leonas described at the challenges especially during the winter and rainy days, and noting the small stall sizes, one can only imagine the sense of confinement these draft crosses have living and working there. His words, however, were spoken with deep gratitude and anticipation of the coming time when the present conditions will become history. Greener paddocks are truly on the horizon.

As of this writing, design work is still in progress as well as fundraising, and a ground-breaking date has not been set yet. For more information about this project, contact Cheryl Bratz at cbratz@nationalmall.org. To donate, go to www.nationalmall.org/horsestables