Equine Officers: Exciting Facts about Police Horses
The relationship between horse and human is long-established, with horses performing numerous duties, from war hero to pasture ornament. The use of horses within the police force dates back to the early 18th century, and they retain a significant role in community policing.
Police horses perform various roles, from community outreach programs to dispersing crowds and combating civil disorder. They give their riders a significant height advantage and greater visibility, and are more agile and mobile than vehicles. According to the UK’s College of Policing, horses “may bring a swifter end to public disorder.”
A Day in the Life of a Police Horse
A police horse’s day begins with breakfast, after which he’s treated to a thorough groom and clean-up. After the day’s briefing, the horse’s rider will tack him up and either head out onto the streets or load him into a horse trailer to transport him to his allocated patrol.
When on patrol duty, a police horse works for approximately five hours a day, during which he’ll cover anywhere from 10 to 30 miles, mostly at a walk.
Police horses generally patrol in pairs, with a less experienced horse teaming up with an older police horse who has years of experience under his belt (or girth!).
On completing his day’s work, the police horse will return to his stable, where he’ll be given a full scrub down before being rewarded with a hearty meal.
Uses of Police Horses
Police horses perform a range of duties, from patrolling the streets to crowd control. Horses have a pacifying effect on large crowds and enable mounted officers to see over the crowd and assess its actions.
Police horses also perform ceremonial duties and are involved in community outreach programs. Some specially trained police horses undertake search and rescue missions, while others patrol the border between the US and Mexico.
Why Police Horses are Still Used Today
While the use of horses may seem a bit outdated to the uninitiated, they have several significant advantages over cars and other vehicles that make them indispensable.
Horses are more mobile and agile than cars and can traverse either roads or sidewalks. They can cover ground quickly and navigate challenging terrain.
Their size and presence act as a natural barrier in crowded situations, enabling a mounted officer to do the work of 10 officers on foot.
Police Horse Training
Training a police horse takes at least six months, possibly more depending on the horse’s character and the nature of the work he’s expected to undertake. During training, a police horse will be exposed to all kinds of strange objects and loud noises, from sirens and loud music to fireworks and explosions.
Police horses are also trained to maneuver safely through crowds and cope with low-visibility environments. They also get accustomed to being surrounded by crowds of people, some of whom may be pushing baby strollers or carrying umbrellas or placards.
Training a horse for search and rescue operations involves teaching them to follow a scent and allowing them to use their sense of smell to track and locate the target.
Police horses may be taught other special skills, depending on their intended use.
Special skills may include jumping, working cattle, and safely traversing rocky terrain.
Police Horse Requirements
Not every horse can perform the duties required of a police horse and must pass a rigorous selection process before it can begin its career. Police horses must be calm and sensible, responsive to their riders, and easy to handle on the ground. They also need to be a minimum of 16.2hh and aged between 5 to 10 years old.
In Adelaide, South Australia, only gray horses are considered for the role, partly due to tradition and partly because they are easily visible, even in low-light conditions.
Police horses must also be agile, easy to maneuver, and have smooth, easy gaits. Most police horses also need to be weight carriers, although those used for border patrol are often smaller and more agile.
Mounted Police Officer Training
You don’t need to be an experienced rider to train as a mounted police officer, but you do need to have completed a two-year probation period as a regular officer.
During your mounted police officer training, you’ll learn basic equitation techniques, crowd control strategies, how to ride in formation and navigate obstacle courses, arrest procedures, and mounted officer survival skills.
All horses working within the police force carry a badge, just as their human counterparts do.
Equine officers are also legally protected in the US, and striking a police horse, or otherwise causing it discomfort or injury, is a misdemeanor of the second degree and will result in a hefty fine.
Police Horse Ranks
There are no ranks for police horses in the UK or in most of the US, but those belonging to the Galveston County Mounted Police are promoted to the rank of Sargent once they complete their probationary period.
In the past, police horses traditionally had five ranks:
- Commander or General
Famous Police Horses
Few police horses are publicly acknowledged for their bravery, but Skippy, a Morgan horse working for the Cleveland Police Department, is an exception to that rule. Skippy rose to fame in 1942 when he rescued 20 circus horses from a raging fire.
Another police horse recognized for his contributions is Big D, or Dino, of the Baltimore Police Mounted Unit. This Belgian Draft gelding started his career in 2016 after being retired from an Amish farm.
He was recognized for his “long-standing commitment to the community” in 2018 when he was awarded the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Klinger Perpetual Award for Honor & Service.
Breeds that Excel as a Police Horse
Several horse breeds are favored by the mounted police, with different breeds fulfilling different roles.
While Quarter horses and Mustangs are favored for border patrol, larger stockier animals (think: Draft & Draft crosses) are more suited for urban patrol work and crowd control.
With an average height of 16.2hh, the Clydesdale has a well-proportioned body, arched neck, big ears, and straight nose.
The Clydesdale is a strong, gentle horse that’s intelligent and easy to train.
It is a powerful animal with a good work ethic and calm disposition.
The Quarter horse is a short, stocky animal with a deep, broad chest. Ranging between 14.2 to 16hh, it is more commonly used for border patrol and search and rescue rather than crowd control.
Quarter horses are recognized for their speed, agility, and intelligence.
They are calm, level-headed animals known for their intelligence and trainability.
Originally bred as war horses, Percherons are powerful horses that measure between 15 and 17.2 hh. They are muscular animals with short backs, deep girths, and well-defined withers.
Percherons have a commanding presence yet docile demeanor, making them ideal police horses.
The Thoroughbreds are athletic animals that stand around 16hh. They have long legs and deep girths and are muscular yet lean.
Thoroughbreds are more commonly known for their speed and stamina, but it’s their strong work ethic, bravery, and willingness to please helps them excel as police horses.
Other horse breeds used for police work include:
- American Paint
- Belgian Draft
- Dutch Warmblood
- Tennessee Walker
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a police horse called?
Police horses are often referred to as mounts, but they don’t have a special designation, although some units do allocate them ranks, such as sergeant.
Q: Are police horses specially trained?
Yes, all police horses undergo rigorous training designed to prepare them for the challenges of the job, which may include navigating large crowds, large noises, and explosions.
Q: Are police horses considered officers?
Police horses are officers and enjoy the same legal protection as human officers.
Q: Where are police horses used?
Police horses are used in urban and rural environments across the world, including Canada, the UK, Australia, and much of Europe. 40 US states have mounted police units, including Florida, New York, Michigan, and Texas. You’ll also find police horses in Puerto Rico, South Africa, Japan, and India.
Police horses are highly valued for their strength and size, as well as their agility and maneuverability. They are most commonly used for patrol, community outreach, and crowd control but also play an essential role in border patrol and search and rescue missions.
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