Mary & Jack

She combs her fingers through his hair, runs her hand along his back. Jack turns his muscular neck, tossing an adoring look her way. "We'll brush the mud off so you'll be pretty for your picture, Jack." Her voice is high and sweet. The curry-comb grooms his shoulder; Jack nods his massive head. Jack is a big horse, a Percheron-Morgan mix. We're standing in a hilltop horse barn in Nassau. Mary Hogencamp owns Jack. "You can give him a carrot if you'd like," she nods toward a bucket beside the stall. I snap the carrot and immediately have Jack's undivided attention.

Mary is a sweet and lovely woman, very Midwest Mom-like. You'd expect to find her in a farm kitchen baking pies; which to her own great delight, she very often does. But there is another side to this complex woman. Mary recently retired as a State Police Captain, after a distinguished twenty-year career. At first glance it's difficult to picture this woman chasing down a criminal or investigating a gruesome homicide. Mary is confident, has nothing to prove so you don't see it at first, not until you begin to discuss police work. Her demeanor remains the same, it's in her eyes where you discover the change, they become clear and decisive, determined, all business. Mary Hogencamp didn't become a Captain in the New York State Troopers by being sweet; she did it by being very good at what she does.

Mary's brothers urged her to take the Trooper's exam back in 1979. She wasn't sure that was her calling, but she passed with flying colors. Six physically and mentally grueling months at the Academy followed. Times have drastically changed, but back in '79 there was a good deal of resentment toward women who wanted careers in law enforcement. Mary had to prove herself; hard work was her solution. She was one of fifteen women to graduate that year.

Her first assignment was to G-Troop in Selkirk, "I got hooked on daily police work," she declares. Her follow Troopers immediately accepted her and, following the dictates of camaraderie, she was given the nickname Max. "Your partner shouting, 'Max' while breaking up a barroom brawl is far more effective than chortling, 'Mary'," she stretches out her name in a high voice and smiles. Mary loved both the freedom and the great responsibility inherent to being a Trooper. One minute you're relaxing over coffee and doughnuts and the next instant you're speeding to a dangerous crime scene. Mary relates the dilation and stretching of time, the adrenalin rush of those harrowing moments.

Mary later served six years as Director of the Southern Tier Crime Lab. Forensic work, while intriguing, can like all police work be stressful and draining. The in-your-face blood and guts environment, dealing daily with homicide, with the ugliness and horrible things people do to other people can become extremely toxic. Mary found a release, a hobby, horses and the art of dressage.

Dressage, dating from at least 380 B.C., has its roots in military training; the rider controls the horse primarily with his legs, freeing his hands for combat. The exquisite dancing movements of the horse are actually both offensive and defensive gestures. Dressage is a highly trained partnership between rider and horse.

"The idea that you and your horse could dance to music was enchanting," Mary says. Mary and Jack have since enchanted audiences competitively. I ask her the easiest way to learn to ride and Mary replies, "There is no easy way, just hours in the saddle." What fun, I think to myself.

"Want to ride Jack?" she asks.

"Sure." I mentioned Jack's size earlier. He is also very wide and comfortable, like sitting in a roomy club chair.

Mary instructs me with specific leg and rein commands. I execute them and Jack performs a 'Half Pass', crossing the outside pair of legs over in front of his inner pair. Effortlessly we glide sideways across the ring. Mary is surprised at Jack's response to me, "He likes you," she smiles. I'm dazzled.

Mary marvels at life, hard work and enchantment her rewarding life choices.

We'll talk next time From The Road.

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