WRITTEN BY WENDY GILLIS
Cross-posted from the Toronto Star
He was the ever-obedient servant, the Toronto police mounted unit’s gentle giant. But during the odd midnight shift at the force’s CNE stables, Royal Sun was known to show a mischievous streak.
Officers would hear rustling from the barn and know the massive horse was wandering the aisles, usually en route to the hay stack. He had finagled his way to freedom by sticking his head out the stall door window and lifting the latch with his teeth.
“He took the door off one time. He was walking around the barn with it on like a necklace,” remembers Sgt. Chris Heard.
“We had to put the chain on all the doors, because other horses were learning from watching him,” said Staff Insp. William Wardle, the mounted unit commander.
After 12 years of devoted service and occasional unauthorized jaunts, Royal Sun, a 16-year-old crossbreed, unexpectedly died on the job early Sunday morning while patrolling the Entertainment District.
The animal tore a major ligament near his leg, causing a leg bone to twist and shatter. Officers rushed him to an equine hospital, but after analyzing X-rays and discussing all options, they made the tough decision to put him down.
Royal, as he’s known, was due to retire in two or three years, and Wardle expected he would live six to 10 more on a farm. The sudden loss has left the unit mourning one of its most beloved and longest-serving partners.
Equal parts majestic and mild-mannered, commanding and calm, Royal was the perfect police horse, said Heard: gentle, kind and willing to please, but bold and capable.
Heard rode Royal off and on for 11 years, often choosing the nearly 900-kilogram animal over the unit’s two dozen other horses. Royal’s size, combined with his willingness to please, made him the best choice for tough jobs — including the G20 summit.
“I won’t lie to you; there were a few times there when I was uncomfortable, looking at the monster crowds and the anger that people had,” Heard said. “Having that boy under me, it gave me assurance. ‘I’m on Big Royal and, you know what, we’re going to get through this.’”
Dominating as he appeared, Royal was also the first to be trotted out for school tours to the unit, thanks to his calm demeanour.
Heard remembers a visit to the station by blind children. Royal let them touch his side and whiskers, even feel the breath coming out of his nose, and no one was afraid he would act out.
“He would just do what was asked of him — a fantastic servant for the city,” Heard said.
Police will hold a private memorial for Royal Sun preceding the burial of his ashes at the Thistledown Pet Memorial in Uxbridge.