You may have seen Sprout proudly walking through parades around New Jersey or standing solemnly at a funeral. Perhaps, your kids were one of hundreds who took a ride on him over the past 16 years.

State Police are mourning the loss of their beloved 22-year-old horse horse Sprout —a rescue who had been starved and abused at a young age. He was adopted by Lt. Ted Schafer, who made him the law enforcement agency's unofficial ceremonial horse.

"He was my pet and there were no state dollars involved" in his care, Schafer said.

Schafer said Sprout died suddenly sometime early Monday morning and found him lying the floor of his stall and there was no indication he was sick. His 7-year-old daughter took Sprout for a ride on Friday night.

He loved going to work. He just really enjoyed doing what he did and was very passionate about it.

"We had a great ride at the park. He was trotting, interactive. He did very well," said Schafer, who said he was groomed and ready for the funeral of Sean Cullen on Monday.

Schafer said Sprout loved his job and interacting with the public. When he saw Schafer hook up the State Police trailer to his truck in the driveway, Sprout would "run around knowing he was going to work. He loved going to work. He just really enjoyed doing what he did and was very passionate about it," said Schafer.

"Literally hundreds and hundreds of children have ridden him. I would hop off his back and parents would put their kids on and give them horseback rides. He enjoyed doing it and he never minded."

Schafer who said Sprout was a Belgian horse and a "gentle giant" who weighted 1,800 pounds. Sprout was a friendly way to "break the barrier between police and the public," said Schafer.

Schafer said Spout did about 35 events a year including  inner city events, security for Giants and Jets games. He was also called upon by other law enforcement agencies around the region for their events.

"My wife would custom make the saddle patch for that agency, she'd put their graphics on it," he said.

Schafer got Sprout at 4-years-old from a farm on Long Island.

"He was starved, abused and left for dead to the point where as a yearling he couldn't stand. or get up. They had to drag him onto a trailer just to get him out of there," said Schafer.

He remembered meeting Sprout for the first time and taking him for a ride. "He did really, really well for me and I found out later he really didn't know much of anything"

I was truly blessed to have had him in my life and my family's life. And State Police got to share him and so did many so many people in the state.

"So I spent some time with him and got to know him," said Schafer, who said the woman who had rescued him was giving him away.  "When I went to leave the farm he actually followed me along the fence line as I was walking away from the farm. And I look at that and said, 'How do I say no to this?' From the moment I got him he was instantly bonded to me."

Schafer said that Sprout was a leader as well and would always be the anchor when he was with other horses at police events because of his experience and he didn't startle easily.

"I was truly blessed to have had him in my life and my family's life. And State Police got to share him and so did many so many people in the state."

"I got 16 years out of that horse. He's a family horse; he taught all three of my children how to ride" and each learned how to ride when they were just 6 months old. "He was a great, great family member."

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