New Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke rides to his first day of work |

New Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke rides to his first day of work

Ryan Zinke rode Tonto, a 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse, to his first day of work at the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. Photo courtesy of U.S. Park Police

Following in the hoofprints of Teddy Roosevelt, who was known for his time spent horseback, the new Secretary of U.S Department of Interior Ryan Zinke saddled up for his first day of work March 3. Zinke was escorted by mounted members of the United States Park Police, a division of the Interior.

The former House representative of Montana rode Tonto, a 17-year-old Irish Sport Horse who was born in Ireland who is on loan to the US Park Police. In his lifetime, Tonto has been used as a field hunter, as well as hunted with his owner, Jessica Swan, a Virginia farmer, volunteer firefighter and EMT.

The required traits and training of a fox hunter or field hunter, like a calm demeanor and tolerance for loud noises and commotion, made Tonto the perfect choice to carry Zinke.

“All of my horses have manners. Field hunters, they’re working horses; that means I’m not a fancy English rider with my own groom. I get up in the morning, feed my cows, horses, and chickens, tack my horse up, and throw them in the trailer; and they better stand quietly. I do my best to make sure they’re good citizens,” Swan said.

Some controversy surrounding Tonto’s name has surfaced on social networks, but Swan is unconcerned and feels Tonto’s name is the opposite of racism. His registered name is Tonto Silverheels, named for Jay Silverheels who played Tonto in The Lone Ranger.

“He was named out of respect. The man who actually imported him, Clay Smith, lived in the era of The Lone Ranger. He thought ‘finally a Native American is playing a Native American, not someone in ridiculous makeup,’” Swan said. “He put Silverheels on the end purely as a positive thing. I wish people would just leave children and animals out of their personal politics; my horse doesn’t care about politics, he cares about cookies.”

As an avid hunter and outdoor-lover herself, Swan said she couldn’t be more supportive of Zinke riding her horse, who will be returned to her, she estimates, in his 20s.

“The interesting thing is that the new secretary is a big outdoorsman who supports hunting, fishing, and horses. Tonto used to live and hunt with me, and General George Patton used to hunt in that same area,” Swan said. “I just hope everyone has enjoyed it as much as I have. I think the Park Police does fantastic work; I was really happy to see him profile the people who work very hard, they deserve to have something special.”

Sergeant Anna Rose, who has been with U.S. Park Police for ten years, was one of the escorts to Secretary Zinke during his ride through Washington D.C.

“I thought it was awesome. It was really nice that he chose to ride with the Park Police. We’re just one small part of the Interior, and there are so many bureaus, so to have that honor was really something for us,” Rose said. “It was great it was in such a green way. He could have ridden in an SUV down the street; instead he rode, and we went and toured the Lincoln Memorial, about a half mile from where he mounted, before heading to the building.”

The horseback ride went smoothly, considering the brisk, windy morning that can sometimes make horses fresh. Rose said she was unsure if Zinke has ridden before, however, she appreciated one small action of the secretary’s.

“When some people get on a horse, they just sort of plop down. He sat down gently. Zinke is a very big man, and I admired that when he mounted, he was very gentle when he sat and cared about the animal. It certainly looked like he has ridden before; the horse was never uncomfortable,” Rose said. “It was uneventful which is good when on a horse. It was a very windy morning and a bit brisk, horses get a little bit frisky especially when in a group; usually we would go out a bit later, when it warms up. The horses seemed to know they were doing a big job. We rode over to the Lincoln Memorial and Zinke took the time to ask the officers how they were doing and if they were having a good morning. It gave me a good impression of him.”

The morning ride concluded at the Main Interior Building, where members from all Bureaus within the Department of Interior were waiting for Zinke. A Native American played drums and sang as well.

“The ceremony was a good representation of all the agencies. It was a really a nice atmosphere for him to ride through,” Rose said. “Zinke is definitely a strong supporter of law enforcement. To have someone who really gets what we do is great, even though he has lots and lots of other topics to cover besides law enforcement.”

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