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The Interior Secretary’s Favorite Horse, ‘Tonto,’ Has Been Very Busy

Want to meet the US Park Police horse? Get in line.

by Sarah Emerson
Sep 22 2017, 5:32pm

Image: National Park Service

You might not know who Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is, but you probably remember the stunt he pulled in March: riding a big, beautiful horse to his first day of work at the agency's headquarters. The horse's name was Tonto, and we all loved him, because horses are pure, good, and deserving of our love.

Zinke has since pivoted to other publicity efforts, like installing Big Buck Hunter in the agency's cafeteria and launching "Doggy Day" (a bring-your-dog-to-work initiative) at the Interior. He's also proposed to shrink four national monuments, cancelled a temporary ban on new federal coal leases, and pushed for drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But back to Tonto. I wanted to know as much as possible about him, so I submitted a public records request to the US Park Police, the National Park Service (NPS) division that owns him. Yesterday, I received 20 pages of documents regarding our favorite gelding, and it turns out he's been very busy.

I learned a few important things. For instance, Tonto has recently been dewormed. That's because all the horses at Edgewater stables, where Tonto was residing, were exposed to worms by horses "Carmen" and "Remington," who showed high parasite counts in March. In total, 20 Edgewater horses were dewormed 10 days ahead of schedule. Thanks a lot, Carmen and Remington.

Screenshot: NPS FOIA documents

That was good, though, since Tonto was about to go on a media blitz. "...over here we are still stuck on the whole Secretary Zinke riding a horse to work thing," one E&E News reporter wrote to NPS Communications Chief Mike Litterst, requesting a meet-and-greet with the secretary's mount.

Our own VICE News even filmed a segment with Tonto, though his interview never aired. (VICE News learned that Tonto's full name is "Tonto Silvershoes.")

Zinke himself requested an interview with Tonto and Fox & Friends on April 25; it was later rescheduled due to a conflict with Zinke's schedule. A look at his April calendar, which the Interior Department voluntarily released, reveals that Zinke was tied up in meetings. During that time slot, between 4 and 5 PM ET, Zinke and senior Interior staff were discussing Trump's pending executive order to review America's national monuments.

Screenshot: NPS FOIA documents

One of these Interior staff, who also arranged the Fox & Friends interview, was Heather Swift. At the time, Swift was a part of Trump's Interior Beachhead Team—tasked with keeping watch on the agency's transition. Swift has since become Interior Press Secretary, and played an instrumental role in the controversial banning of a federal climate scientist from Mark Zuckerberg's tour at Glacier National Park in July.

But, again, back to Tonto. I'm sort of concerned about Tonto.

"Must we do this at H1? The place is in such deplorable conditions that I hate for that to represent us," a US Park Police officer wrote, referring to the stables where Fox & Friends wanted to shoot its segment.

Screenshot: NPS FOIA documents

The H1 stables, located on the National Mall, were never meant to be permanent. Designed for the United States Bicentennial in 1976, they've remained in use ever since. The dilapidated structure, according to the Trust for the National Mall, is plagued with "moisture problems and associated rot, mildew and poor ventilation," which create unsafe conditions for both horses and humans.

Image: US Park Police/NPS

But the Trust claims it's raising money for new stables. NPS is already beset with a $12 million maintenance backlog, and Trump's proposed budget would shrink the agency's coffers by 13 percent—cuts that Zinke has defended, saying "This is what a balanced budget looks like."

Zinke was more than happy to trot Tonto out for high-publicity events, meanwhile. An email shows that Zinke asked to ride Tonto in the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in April. (DC's beloved cherry blossoms are are suffering from the maintenance backlog, too.)

Screenshot: NPS FOIA documents

But most recently, Tonto was having issues with his lip. Aww, feel better, Tonto!

"We can set up a time to do Spirit's melanomas, Tonto's lip, and Lancelot as well," a Virginia-based veterinary clinic wrote.

A spokesperson for the US Park Police told me Tonto has a growth on his lip around the size of a quarter. It was recently biopsied, and the team are waiting on his results.

"It has no impact on his ability to work," US Park Police said. "And he's very happy."

National Park Service
Ryan Zinke
Interior Department
us park police