- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - Bethlehem’s four police horses have quite a bit of history under hoof, and sometimes that’s a problem.

When not walking the beat, Pharaoh, George, Asa and Grey stay in a historic stable at the Burnside Plantation.

It’s a living museum of a Colonial-era farm not far from the Monocacy Creek, a secluded patch between the commercial strips in west Bethlehem and the leafy campus of Moravian College. The stable is a salvaged 19th-century barn placed on the foundation of one torched in the 1920s by an arsonist.

And in the seven years since Bethlehem reactivated the mounted unit, the 1,800-pound animals have literally been digging up some of that past.

Old nails and rusty screws are rising to the surface and have found their way into the hooves of two veteran horses.

“They’re eating the grass quite a bit and, from the freezes and thaws, things rise to the service,” said Tom Tenges, president of the Friends of the Mounted Unit Foundation that pays the horses’ bills. “So, these rusted, little pieces are continuing to rise up.”

Pharaoh, a 12-year-old quarterhorse, and George, a 10-year-old Percheron/Morgan cross, were taken to a veterinary clinic in Quakertown this fall to be treated for puncture wounds, one of which was just millimeters from becoming a major injury, according to police.

“Stepping on a nail may be no big deal or it can be life-threatening,” said Dr. David Levine, an assistant professor of clinical large animal surgery at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Vital structures inside of the hoof capsule are near the bottom of the foot, making punctures potentially dangerous.

If no important structures are damaged, Levine said, there may be no issues or just an abscess where the nail entered. But if a vital structure is penetrated, infection would be the biggest concern. And infections can be life-threatening.

“These penetrations should be treated as emergencies and can require various surgical interventions to save the horse,” said Levine, who is not involved in the care of Bethlehem’s horses.

He said such injuries are “not uncommon,” but they become less common when horse owners become aware. Often, after barns are built, horse owners will use a magnet to pick up loose objects.

Police have been scouring the pasture daily with detectors to remove potential danger, uncovering errant nails and screws. Officers don’t believe they’ve come across anything of historical value. They believe that in the past people dumped garbage on the property.

Charlene Donchez Mowers, president of Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites, said she isn’t aware of anyone having used the Burnside Plantation as a dump.

It was part of 500 acres bought in 1747 by James Burnside, a widower who married a Moravian woman and settled in Bethlehem. After he died, his widow sold the farm to the Moravian Church, which used it as a plantation and home to two Moravian organ builders.

Tenant farmers operated the plantation until 1848, when the Moravian lease system ended and much of the land was sold to Charles Luckenback. Pieces of the plantation were sold for development over the years, leaving 6.5 acres around the original farmhouse.

Mowers said some records indicate the large barn on the property was burned down in the 1920s by someone who set it “just to see the fire trucks.”

By the mid-1980s, a group led by environmentalist Gertrude B. Fox petitioned Lehigh County to purchase the remaining land. In 1992, the stable where the horses are now was built. It’s an 1850s Pennsylvania German-style bank barn that was trucked in from Lower Nazareth Township and erected in an old-fashioned barn raising.

The plantation is now under the umbrella of Historic Bethlehem Museum and Sites. Burnside is used to teach visitors what life was like in Colonial times. Costumed guides demonstrate farming methods used between 1748 and 1848.

It hosts school field trips, weddings and community events, including the popular Blueberry Festival, and houses the horses rent-free.

But the horses may soon be history at Burnside.

While the horses’ recent injuries perhaps reinforced the decision, police Chief Mark DiLuzio said the city’s search for a new home began last year and predates the most recent trips to the veterinary clinic. The horses have outgrown Burnside and the mounted unit needs to find a larger, more modern place to stay, he said.

“We are very grateful to Historic Bethlehem for helping us when we started seven years ago … at this point, we have outgrown the Burnside facility,” DiLuzio said.

The Friends of the Mounted Unit, the nonprofit that pays for everything but the police officers’ salaries, has raised $312,000 of the estimated $360,000 cost of a new barn. The nonprofit estimates it will need to raise $30,800 annually to operate it.

The facility would include warm water for washing the horses and wireless connections and other amenities that can’t be had at a museum that interprets 18th- and 19th-century farm life.

Police want enough land so each horse has an acre to graze. They also want another acre to build a barn and, eventually, an enclosed arena. That would allow Bethlehem to host training seminars for other mounted units and provide more space to conduct youth programs.

Earlier this year, city officials identified a slope behind the Municipal Ice Rink on Illick’s Mill Road, but retreated from that idea, in part because of backlash from residents who use it as a sledding spot.

Other locations are either too close to homes, in flood plains or too far away from the downtowns, where the mounted unit patrols.

The city is zeroing in on 5.1 acres north of the compost center near Eaton Avenue and Schoenersville Road and the nearby ball fields. The location would provide a permanent police presence on the west side and give the horses access to Monocacy Way, which they could use to get downtown.

Officials are still evaluating the details of using that city-owned land, which is actually in Hanover Township, Northampton County, but if it passes muster, the horses could hoof it to their new home as early as next summer.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/22sYMxj

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Information from: The Morning Call, https://www.mcall.com

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