Life was perfectly fine at Good Faith Ranch in West Sacramento, where Patrick the spotted horse once grazed, lounged and entertained his human companion, animal writer Gina Spadafori.
But Patrick had higher aspirations.
Now, he has a badge, a title and a proper outlet for his high energy and intelligence, said Spadafori.
Patrick has become the newest member of the Sacramento Police Department's mounted unit.
As such, he is a horse of a very different color.
Spotted or "paint" horses are rare within police forces around the country. They prefer uniform shades of dark brown and black, said Patrick's police partner, Officer Kate McLoughlin.
Bred from Tennessee walker stock, Patrick also has an unusually smooth gait, one that allows him to cover ground quickly while keeping McLoughlin more comfortable in the saddle.
"We kind of need a horse with a little spunk, a little chutzpah, confident enough to stand there in the face of adversity," said McLoughlin. "Patrick is a leader. He wants to be in charge."
Which, said Spadafori, makes him better suited as a police officer than a pet for someone who prefers leisurely rides around the ranch.
Spadafori co-produces a nationally syndicated pet column that runs in The Bee on Tuesdays. She donated Patrick to the Police Department a few months back after realizing he was a tad too spirited for her lifestyle.
"I'm so proud," she said. "I kind of feel like I've got a son who's a police officer."
An ideal equine officer is unfazed by the sound of train whistles, the chaos of large public events, the blasts of boom boxes or the crackle of bullets or fireworks. He must be capable of quickly moving through crowds, creating barriers and pushing criminal suspects into a position of submission when called to do so.
Patrick, tan and white with a blond mane that sparkles in the sunshine, excels on all fronts, McLoughlin said.
He cuts an elegant figure as he and McLoughlin patrol their downtown territory, trotting around Capitol Park, past downtown bank buildings and down the cobblestone streets of Old Sacramento. Patrick and the other four steeds who represent the city's mounted patrol unit wear special badges on their chests and bridles and patches on their saddlebags, along with reflective booties around their ankles.
Patrick attracts plenty of attention from people of all ages and backgrounds, and the Police Department encourages such interactions.
"Part of our mission is to connect with the public," said McLoughlin. "About 30 percent of our day is spent just interacting with people.
"People who might otherwise never talk to an officer, even gangbangers and drug dealers, tend to speak to you when you're on a horse."
Patrick's personality, in particular, "puts a smile on people's faces," she said, including one suspect who, as McLoughlin was interviewing him, lost his can of King Cobra malt liquor when Patrick snatched it from his hands to try to drink it.
"He's got the kind of personality and spirit that you just can't train into a horse," McLoughlin said.
McLoughlin, 31, was a "typical horse-crazy girl" growing up in the Bay Area, she said. Years later, as a history major at UC Davis, she began sweeping barns at the equestrian center in exchange for riding lessons.
She was working for a historical consulting firm, occasionally spending her lunch hour at Capitol Park, when she spotted a mounted California Highway Patrol officer and began asking questions. She passed a rigorous physical test and entered the Sacramento Police Department's academy.
Five years after she joined the department, an opening came up for a mounted officer. McLoughlin was first in line. She rode Breyer, who at age 22 was well into middle age, before meeting Patrick earlier this year at Spadafori's ranch.
Patrick easily passed his tryout, which included exposing him to simulations of angry crowds and loud noises, and he bonded quickly with McLoughlin. "I couldn't be happier with him," she said.
The mounted force works large public events, such as air shows, parades and protests, as well as taking calls for everything from shootings to public drunkenness.
Horses give their human officers added strength, height and visibility, so they are ideal for crowd control, McLoughlin said. They can navigate in alleys and other tight places where patrol cars would be impractical.
McLoughlin and Breyer worked the fireworks show in Old Sacramento earlier this year, and afterward moved through throngs of people to respond to a report of gunshots at an area bar. They were the first law enforcement team to arrive on the scene of a fatal shooting.
Many large police forces around the country have mounted units, although budget cuts have reduced their numbers in recent years. The Sacramento Police Department has managed to maintain its unit in part because of the backing of volunteers and fundraising through a nonprofit association, said McLoughlin.
The department shares an office and a barn off Front Street with officers and horses employed by the CHP.
McLoughlin typically begins her work day by feeding Patrick, sweeping out his stall and shampooing him before suiting him up and hitting the streets. The special equipment she carries includes a plexiglass mask to protect Patrick's face, an extra-long baton, and a bisected metal cookie sheet perfect for quick cleanups.
"One of the most important tools of the trade," McLoughlin said, displaying the tool with a smile. "Yes, we do pick up our horse's poop."
Call The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082. Follow her on Twitter @cynthia_hubert.