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February 2, 2013

Officer patrols campus with smile and saddle

The Daily Star

---- — COBLESKILL — John Bagdovitz loves his job as a campus police officer for the State University College at Cobleskill . And a lot of that has to do with his his partner, a 14-year-old retired racehorse named Flapjack Attack.

Bagdovitz is the only mounted campus patrol officer in the SUNY system. He became the steady rider of Flapjack Attack — whom the officer simply calls Jack — in late 2008, after Steve Ackernecht, vice president for student affairs, suggested it would be a good idea for the campus force to acquire a horse.

At that point, Bagdovitz was 48 years old and had never been trained to ride a horse. But he said he viewed the task as an exciting challenge, so he enrolled at a seven-week riding school run by the State Police in Saratoga Springs.

“It was a painful lesson to learn, but a good one,” quipped Bagdovitz, who has been an officer for 25 years.

Bonding with Flapjack Attack, he said, was nearly immediate. Every horse, he said, has his or her idiosyncrasies, and Bagdovitz said he was patient as he learned what spooked Jack, and what didn’t.

“If you walked right up to me and handed me a flag, he’d start wigging out,” he said.

But if the gelding is allowed to first inspect an object before it is handed to the rider, he will stay relaxed, the officer said.

“I’ve gotten to know what he likes and what he doesn’t like,” Bagdovitz said.

What Bagdovitz initially did not know about his new mount was that he had been a champion trotter, retired from racing because of an injury. Among titles he had captured was Trotter of the Year, an accolade bestowed on him by the Saratoga Harness Horsemen’s Association.

While patrolling the campus atop Flapjack Attack, Bagdovitz discovered that almost everyone he encountered wanted to be his friend. The Cobleskill campus specializes in agricultural programs, one of the reasons why administrators thought the horse would be a good fit.

“Jack has been a great public-relations tool for us,” Bagdovitz said. “In my 25 years of law enforcement, no one ever wanted to take my picture. But now, everyone wants to come up to talk to me and get a picture. It’s really a win-win situation.”

Jack’s gentle disposition has made his transition to campus life an easy one, the officer said. Horses, he added, tend to be social animals. But Jack is different.

“He’s a real loner,” he said. “He truly likes to be alone.”

Flapjack Attack gets regular workouts during such special events as graduations and local parades, he said. Students majoring in equine studies ride the horse and help in his care and grooming. The officer said the connections he has made with the students and Cobleskill residents have benefited the police as well.

“The best time on the job for me is when I’m in the saddle,” he said. “I enjoy interacting with the students and have them come up to talk to me. Some of the kids from the city don’t know much about horses and can be kind of skittish around them. But I encourage them to come up to me.”

“Jack has really opened a lot of doors for me,” he said.