Remarkable Horses in Canada: Brigadier
By Margaret Evans
In the the Summer of 2017, we celebrated Canada’s 150th anniversary with stories of 20 exceptional horses that have reflected our values and fired our national pride. One of those horses was Brigadier.
Few animals are as admired or respected as police service animals. The sight of a mounted officer brings a smile, quiet admiration, and a childhood impulse to stroke a velvety muzzle. Horses bridge the communication gap between the officer and the public each time someone approaches asking permission to pet the horse.
February 24, 2006 was a routine day when Police Constable Kevin Bradfield saddled Brigadier and, with Constable Ron Gilbert on Blue Moon, rode out of the Horse Palace on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, home of the Toronto Police Mounted Unit, on their way to patrol the Scarborough area on the east side of Toronto.
Brigadier was a nine-year-old, 16 hand chestnut Belgian-cross gelding with a flaxen mane, weighing some 1,500 lbs. Born in the small Ontario town of Listowel near Kitchener, he was a big gentle giant, commanding a huge presence with the public and loved by children.
Brigadier with P.C. Ted Gallipeau.
Brigadier with P.C. Vicki Montgomery, one of several officers who rode him in the line of duty.
He joined the 28-horse stable of the Police Mounted Unit in 2000 and went through the routine assessment for all horses being considered for police duty to determine his responses in city congestion, crowds, loud and sudden noises, heavy traffic and compatibility for working with others. He was assigned to Constable Gilbert in 2001 to begin training and he proved to be one of the best. He was a natural leader and would go anywhere his rider directed him. When Constable Gilbert was assigned to train Blue Moon, Brigadier was assigned to Constable Bradfield.
But on that day, when the two constables rode on patrol, they had no idea that tragedy lay ahead. A man became agitated by a line-up at an ATM bank machine. He jumped into his van and drove off, then did a U-turn and sped deliberately toward Brigadier. He plunged his vehicle straight into the horse, hitting him so hard that he broke both front legs and tossed him right over the vehicle as Constable Bradfield crumpled to the ground with serious rib, leg, and neck injuries.
Police and ambulance rushed to the scene where Brigadier writhed in agony. He was so badly injured that the emergency task force was called in to humanely shoot him right on the street. Struggling to cope, police officers were blinded by tears as they undertook the ultimate task to put Brigadier out of his pain.
The abandoned vehicle was found a couple of miles away, its front end crushed and horsehair still embedded in the windshield. Dirk Sankersingh was arrested at his home in Scarborough a few hours later and charged with dangerous operation of a vehicle causing bodily harm, and failing to remain at the scene.
The cruelty of the act by a reckless driver triggered public grief and outrage. The memorial in his honour drew over 1,000 people.
Sankersingh quietly pleaded guilty on January 15, 2007, and received a two-year conditional sentence.
For Constable Bradfield, it wasn’t the complex things that Brigadier could do, but the little things that made the memories, such as a child tugging behind his parents for one last wave at the horse and rider, or a young couple racing ahead a few blocks to be ready to snap the perfect picture.
In Canada’s biggest and busiest city, Brigadier was a true hero who made the ultimate sacrifice. And in a bigger picture, he represented all horses that have faced danger head-on in service of Canadians.
The death of a Metro Toronto police horse sent shockwaves through the city. The horse took the brunt of the vehicle’s impact and is credited with saving the life of his rider.
Photos by Anne DeHaas