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Mounted Police officers Aaron Dove and Big Busta. (Submitted photo by Patrick McLaughlin) / July 11, 2019

One day in July 2018, four Virginia Beach policemen in uniform and carrying guns showed up at Lucy Fuller’s home on Mountain Road in Halifax.

The purpose of their visit? It was strictly police department business. Fuller took the officers around back of the house to her pasture and showed them Big Busta, a huge draft horse that she was donating to the Virginia Beach Mounted Police.

“A big truck and trailer pulled up with ‘Virginia Beach Mounted Police’ written on it. Four policemen in uniform with their guns on got out and rode him,” Fuller recounted.

Big Busta is a sixteen hand, two inch Pircheron-thoroughbred. For anyone who does not know horses, that’s a really big animal with a solid build and lots of muscle. Virginia Beach Mounted Police prefer horses with some heft.

“They like big horses because you [the rider] can be over the crowd, and in Virginia Beach, they have lots of crowds with all the festivals and holidays,” Fuller said.

While some may think of mounted police as an antiquity, Virginia Beach’s equestrian officers are often deployed in situations many police departments struggle with: crowd control and public relations. Aaron Dove, the officer who rides Big Busta, sits in his saddle five and a half feet off the ground, which gives him a better view of crowds, and his horse can move through the masses more easily than a car or a pedestrian.

Of the public relations function, Fuller explained, “They patrol neighborhoods where they might have a problem …They go to schools, you know, public relations. He [Dove] told me Busta loved it because he could take all their [the kids] hats off.” She added, “He loves hats.”

Fuller noted that Busta is intelligent for a horse — and playful. His favorite bit of mishcief is to try to steal hats off of people’s heads. Another quirky behavior is that Busta, unlike many horses, loves to swim. Fuller said that the first time Dove road Busta onto the beach, the horse went straight into the ocean.

Busta’s easygoing nature goes hand-in-hand with tolerance for strange and potentially threatening situations. Horses are herd and prey animals. As herd animals, they tend to take their social cues from anyone they associate as being part of the herd, including riders. Inexperienced riders who are nervous often make their horses nervous as well. As prey animals, horses are hardwired to be afraid of strange situations.

Busta’s tolerance and patience is what makes Busta special. The police take their horses to a ranch called Pungo, just outside of Virginia Beach, and train them for night riding, riding around police cars with flashing lights and sirens, riding next to SWAT vehicles, riding with crowds of people around, and other distractions that would spook a horse. There is even a giant seesaw similar to the ones in dog shows that the horses are trained to go across.

Because he was so calm, Busta was assigned to the midnight patrol.

“They said Busta was falling asleep in front of the bars,” Fuller said.

Because horses need constant exercise to keep in good shape, and because it helps officers practice their riding while developing a relationship with their horses, the department organizes non-police work events.

“They do have competitions with [police forces from] all the other states, and they went somewhere and even the State Police wanted to train with Virginia Beach Mounted Police,” Fuller said.

Virginia Beach police make sure to equip their horses along with their officers. Busta has his own stall in the barn with a nameplate and high quality hay. He also has several acres of pasture and a herd of his fellow police horses. When he’s on duty, Busta wears optic florescent strips on his ankles and his breastplate to increase visibility at night. He even has a badge.

“This is why I am at peace with where he is. He’s vaccinated regularly. His feet are done regularly,” Fuller said.

She maintains contact with the officers who take care of her horse, and she has visited twice since he left. She plans on visiting again soon.

Horses have always been in Fuller’s life. Growing up on Mountain Road, her mother had horses at their house. She learned to ride from Virginia Wiseman in Danville before she was ten.

“I’ve had horses all my life. Used to trail ride all over Halifax. Used to ride on the sidewalks up Mountain Road,” Fuller said.

Fuller moved to the Outer Banks when she was just 19, and when she did, she took a palomino named Saber to ride. Fuller alternated her time between scuba diving, working in bars, running a dive shop, riding horses, and working at several large barns in the area.

“We did all the wrecks, submarines, and in between all that I rode my horse,” Fuller said.

Fuller rode in parades, at birthday parties, cancer charities, and even organized a society of Kitty Hawk horse owners. She also worked in veterinarian hospitals, but she said that some of her fondest memories were riding her horse along the beach.

“It was gorgeous. I was spoiled rotten,” Fuller said.

Busta’s journey to Virginia Beach began when Fuller met a man on the Outer Banks who worked as a farrier, the person who puts horseshoes on horses’ feet. They became friends through their shared passion for riding, and remained so even after Fuller moved north to train horses year round at more prestigious race tracks. Her farrier friend went on to join the Virginia Beach Mounted Police.

Fuller eventually moved back to Halifax County. For a brief stint, she worked at the Randolph Macon College barn, but she said that she really loved Halifax and decided she wanted to come back. She continued to ride in various events, especially fox hunts. She bought Busta from a trainer in Roxboro to be a fox hunting mount.

Busta has spent the majority of his 12-year life with Fuller, but when her mother passed, Lucy Fuller decided it was time to downsize. She sold the house on Mountain Road and moved into a much smaller duplex behind the hospital. She needed to give her horse a good home and remembered her friend from many years ago. He had already taken some of her other horses, including a miniature horse.

Fuller called Virginia Beach Mounted Police, but her friend had already retired. The department was still interested, however.

“She [the sergeant] called me and said, ‘We are very interested,” Fuller recounted.

When the police came to pick up Busta in July, they only asked for a 90-day trial period. But both Aaron Dove and Lucy Fuller were satisfied with the acquisition, and Busta was almost immediately incorporated into the force.

“I was able to write him off my tax returns as a donation,” Fuller chuckled.

Fuller actually donated Busta through a third party called “Friends of the Virginia Beach Mounted Police.”

In a call for donations on the group’s Facebook page, they said, “All our horses are donated or purchased with donations. We are a nonprofit and donations are tax deductible. If you are interested in donating your horse to be the next great equine officer, please call the Virginia Beach Police Department at: (757) 426-1985. Equines need to have at least basic saddle training, be sound and large enough to carry an officer with equipment and have a steady temperament.”

Horses in the service typically retire back to their officer’s homes or get matched to a reputable owner. Horses can live around 30 years in captivity, sometimes longer, so at 12, Busta still has a long career ahead of him.

Ultimately, Busta’s role with the Mounted Police is to make a statement about police presence. He is part of a larger push to change the image of the Virginia Beach Police. It probably helps that Busta is one of the friendliest horses Fuller remembers ever riding. So friendly, in fact, that he might consider himself to be his rider’s best friend.

“He loved dogs. He thought he was a dog,” Fuller said.

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