SALISBURY — Scout, a handsome 6-year-old Percheron/Thoroughbred horse, stepped onto the beach, a State Police trooper on his back, and everyone on the sparsely populated beach Friday afternoon stopped what they were doing to look.
A few children ran up and patted Scout on his shoulder while Trooper David McCann joked with them and answered questions.
In the state park campground next to the beach a short time later, McCann said hello to a younger man on a path. Once out of earshot, the trooper said, “He was drinking, so we’ll be chatting with him a little later. I know it and he knows it.”
It’s a day in the life of the State Police mounted unit assigned to Salisbury Beach State Park for the summer.
“It’s as much PR as it is patrol,” McCann said in an interview.
The State Police mounted unit is headquartered at the Acton barracks and has 13 horses and six year-round troopers assigned to it, said Sgt. Jack Linquata, the officer who oversees the unit. Three additional troopers were assigned for the summer.
Three horses — Scout, Zach and Captain — are stabled for the summer at Salisbury Beach State Park, where they patrol the campground and state beach. McCann, a Fall River native who lives in Haverhill, has been with the mounted unit for 14 of his 18 years with the state police.
Much of Friday’s patrol was introducing Scout to young children, some of whom walked right up and started patting while others hung back, unsure. A few young men and women posed for pictures on the beach.
But the horses and troopers do more than entertain campers and beach goers, McCann said. They respond to medical calls on the beach, enforce state park regulations — especially the ban on alcohol — search for missing children and act as a uniquely-effective form of crowd control.