NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — They’re called New York City’s 10-foot cops. Officers of the NYPD Mounted Unit patrol atop an elite group of 55 horses who also perform a vital service as members of the unique force.

They attract attention wherever they go. That visibility is essential, but the unit’s detail is more than public relations and guiding traffic. In July, Officers Megan O’Leary and Joseph Tomeo were first responders to the terrifying scene in Central Park after a huge tree fell on a mother and her young children.

“We knew we had to act fast and get there as quickly as possible,” O’Leary said.

“If we weren’t there on horseback, the next police officer might have been a few minutes away because they have to come in on car,” Tomeo said.

The mounted unit is crucial to counter-terrorism. They were among the first on scene at the Times Square car bomb in 2010. During protests like Occupy Wall Street, mounted officers have a broader view for crowd control.

“There’s a lot of time we have a thousand, 1,500 people street fairs, a concert, if something’s going on in the middle of the crowd and we need to get into that crowd to get somebody out or to bring other police officers in we can open that crowd up within a short amount of time without causing anyone to get hurt,” Deputy Commander Barry Gelbman said.

Gelbman’s horse, Fantan, and about half of the NYPD’s 55 police horses live in a 26,000 square-foot state of the art stable on the ground floor of a luxury apartment complex on Manhattan’s far west side.

“This is one of the many things that makes me proud,” Deputy Commissioner Robert Martinez told CBS2’s Dana Tyler.

The Mobile Farrier Unit is a critical component and a $100,000 upgrade for the department. Martinez is the Deputy Commissioner for support services.

“We’re always on the cutting edge of technology with the NYPD fleet and this is just another example,” he said. “It’s a moving pit stop. Just like changing tires on a car, it’s changing horseshoes on a horse.”

Marcus Martinez and Thomas Nolan are the only full-time police department farriers in the United States. Martinez says it makes all the difference.

“Most other mounted units, when they’re int he field, they either have to take the horse away from the situation or they have to take the horse out of service,” he said. “We can keep the horse going.”

“We’re really confident these guys are great at what they do,” Officer Joseph Tomeo said. “Top notch. They can get us right back out there. Back in the game.”

It’s a matter of sturdy, safe shoes and good chemistry with a two-legged partner.

“After spending so much time with the horse, these are our partners,” Officer O’Leary said. “Other police officers sit with other officers in a car for eight hours a day. We’re with these horses eight hours a day.”

The unit’s commander says the horses’ training and temperament are all vital to the NYPD’s Mounted Police Unit.

“It takes a special police horse to go out and be able to stand in traffic and deal with the lights and sirens, the pictures, people constantly petting them,” Gelbman said. “It’s a very special horse that has that patience to sustain that stimuli and still be calm on the streets.”

Officers have to be with the department for at least three years before they can apply to be part of the mounted unit. Even then, they will have to train for five to six hours a day over five to six months.

They also have to tend to the basic needs of their horse, like feeding and cleaning them. As for the horseshoes, the animals get checked for a new set every two to three weeks.

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