Retired police horse helps change lives in Hillsboro
A loud clip-clop from Olin's hooves on the pavement echoed through the barn as he sauntered outside toward his pen.
"You know what you're going to get with Olin," Mackenzie Johnson said. "He's really become a staple in our herd."
Johnson is an equine coordinator at Forward Stride, a nonprofit in the Farmington area south of Hillsboro striving to improve lives through activities and therapies that involve clients interacting with horses.
Therapy wasn't Olin's first profession. The horse spent years as a member of the Portland Police Bureau's Mounted Patrol Unit.
Johnson said it was an exciting day in 2017 when Forward Stride learned it would receive one of the eight horses that formerly made up the mounted patrol.
"It was an emotional day, I think, for the police officers who brought him," she said. "I think that was really hard on them, but also just so exciting for us, so it was really bittersweet."
Portland police have used horses, off and on, since 1887, but the Portland Police Bureau's Mounted Patrol Unit came under scrutiny about five years ago as Portland faced budget constraints.
In 2013, the unit consisted of eight horses, four officers, a sergeant, an equestrian trainer and two stable attendants. The cost of maintaining the unit hovered around $800,000 per year.
The independent Friends of the Mounted Patrol, a nonprofit organization, promised to raise $200,000 annually to support the unit. Dozens of people came to public hearings to praise the unit. Those efforts saved the unit from the chopping block.
The horse patrol came under budget scrutiny again a year later, when a Portland city agency declared the existing horse stables unsafe, forcing the horses to be relocated to a farm in Aurora.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler disbanded the unit in August 2017 after four decades of full-time service.
Since Olin joined Forward Stride, Johnson said they've been able to serve and treat more people. "We've just been able to expand the clients that we see because we're able to take a heavier weight than some of our other horses," she said.
Forward Stride's programs consist of rehabilitation services, equine-facilitated psychotherapy, equine-facilitated learning, a vaulting program, a carriage driving program, and a riding program.
Olin is involved in the organization's riding program, the equine-facilitated learning, a women's trauma recovery group, and the equine-facilitated psychotherapy.
Johnson said equine therapy has always been her personal form of treatment because it makes her happy. During psychotherapy sessions, Olin develops bonds with people and leads them through their personal barriers, she said.
"Walking over a pole can signify getting over something or pushing past or through," Johnson said. "It's those little things that kind of signify the big things. Being able to do it with a horse, I think, gives them that feeling of not being alone, or having someone with them, or to even help push them through it. They have to be strong in order to bring the horse with them."
She said the horses often take on new personalities to help people overcome things, too.
"If they know that you need just a rock or someone to listen to them, they kind of transform into that," Johnson said. "They also can be good mirrors to mirror how you're feeling."
She said Olin is always a "calming force" for clients.
With 35 other horses in the organization, Olin has plenty of friends and people who love him. Yet he has his own little friend group, too, like Mr. P, with whom he shares a pen.
"They play around; they're kind of the two old men," Johnson said. "They kinda hang out, but then they have their days where they run around like the young'uns."
In the pen next door, Olin nickers at Luxi and Lenna, two mares he often plays with from over the fence. The clique is always "being all silly," Johnson said.
But Olin also has a deep relationship with clients.
"He definitely has his people here," Johnson said. "You hear them in the parking lot like, 'Oh, I get to see Olin' or ' Is Olin ready for me?' It's those little things that add up."
Olin playfully bumped Mr. P, nipped him, then scampered away excitedly.
"He's going to tell Mr. P what's up," Johnson said. "You know, he also can be that boss man when he needs to be."
She said he is in twice-weekly psychotherapy sessions and has two riders who also see him weekly.
"He's just as excited to see them," she said.
Johnson has been with Forward Stride for 14 years and said Olin is a greeter, nickering at Johnson when he sees her and using his big brown eyes for attention.
"He's just so cute; his own special kind of cute," she said.
His presence at Forward Stride has helped the organization, she said, and they are pleased to have his experience and lovable qualities on their team.
"Sometimes people have this notion that horses are so big and scary. He's big, but he's so safe and so easy to approach," Johnson said. "It's nice to have those horses that you know are just going to be OK with anything and be happy about it. I think he really loves his job. He doesn't really ever have a moody or angry day, and it's nice to have that consistency."
Forward Stride is located at 23839 S.W. Daniel Road, near the intersection of Farmington and Jacktown roads south of Hillsboro.
Reporter Jim Redden contributed to this article.