Written by Gee Wood with Barb Blendy
Officer Barbara Blendy of the US Park Police (USPP) Mounted Unit got Ray’s attention with a simple question: “Ray, how do you get horses used to helicopters?”
Ray sat bolt upright and focused on the issue of getting horses accustomed to unusual circumstances in a short amount of time. The USPP is generally responsible for public safety and crowd control on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. as well as 85 other national parks and monuments around the country. In Washington, D.C. the Mounted Unit is headquartered and has 3 stables and about 50 horses to patrol all the national monuments in downtown DC, undertake crowd control for big events and demonstrations, and guard the President outside the White House grounds as he boards the helicopter to fly from the White House to Andrews AFB or Camp David.
One thing led to another in Ray’s conversation with Barbara and soon Ray (ever the innovator) became the first clinician ever to offer a horsemanship demonstration for USPP mounted officers and work with their horses. And as a thank you for the help, the USPP mounted officers took Ray and Carolyn on the most amazing trail ride/obstacle course through downtown Washington and the National Mall, around the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center, and the White House. It was a beautiful summer day.
The Hunts arrived in DC during the height of morning rush hour, driving their very big rig and towing a horse trailer. Barbara met them outside town and led a caravan of USPP vehicles and Ray and his trailer through a maze of downtown DC traffic, stoplights, pedestrians rushing to work, toward the USPP stables in Rock Creek Park in the center of DC.
So far the Hunts had seen the sweet and quiet side of Barbara. Then the traffic got snarled and the caravan with the Hunt’s big rig got stuck at a traffic light and had to make a wide swing left turn at a crowded intersection. It looked impossible to get through, but Barbara thought “I can fix this”. Out of the van jumped Barbara in police uniform, with her police officer face on, ran into the middle of the intersection, stopped the cars in all directions, including a Mack truck with an astonished driver, brought all traffic to a dead stop and waved through the caravan, effectively shutting down a major artery into the nation’s capital so that Ray Hunt could pass. We practically got whiplash watching this performance while Ray roared with laughter at Barb’s nano second transformation from charming hostess to serious big time cop.
If the morning trailer caravan was a show-stopper, the afternoon tour on horseback around the National Mall was an obstacle course not to be matched. The USPP took Ray and Carolyn and on horseback ride from the Washington Monument, past the US Capitol, around the Lincoln Memorial and around the White House. On a beautiful summer day the Mall was filled with thousands of visitors; construction and tents going up in preparation for the Folklife Festival; as well as helicopters, boats, police cars, construction trucks, and people running up to the horses (and yes, mothers do push their baby strollers right under the horses). Ray and Carolyn rode their 3-year-old colts that looked liked ponies between the tall USPP horses. Ray’s horses behaved perfectly, interested but never-ever bothered by the noise, vehicles and crowd (no surprise but an astonishing performance) while the other horses even though it was their home territory got a little nervous at some point along the ride. But then we all knew that.
“Who is THAT?” someone asked one of the mounted policemen, pointing to Ray and certainly wondering who the man in a cowboy hat. “Oh” said one policeman in a between-you-and-me voice, “he is a big political contributor”. And that answer seemed to suffice…
The part that I loved was Ray saying a few days beforehand he really did not like to come into cities with all the crowds … and then my closing view of the trail ride at the end of the day in town. Ray rode in front of me and people were running up to the parade of horses to say hello. Ray lifted a small child in front of him on his saddle, giving her a moment to remember all her life, and then began waving back at the crowds, like the royal king in procession, with a great smile on his face and a hello for everybody. I wish I had a picture of Ray’s total enjoyment of the moment, his complete involvement in the now, he made me laugh down to my toes.
Ray set the precedent and then followed other fine horseman who came to help the USPP horses: Buck Brannaman, Walter Zettl, Bryan Neubert, and Mindy Bower.