Surprisingly there is one mode of transport that still hasn’t gone out of date to this day to the military and police. That’s the Mounted Police. These highly trained horses are still in use throughout the world both in rural and metropolitan areas. When you consider how much work goes into training, any competition horse then turns up the notch a little, and that’s the level that horses in the forces are trained. So what goes into these brave horses?
In a modern world, it’s hard to understand why mounted forces still exist and what their uses are. Their range and uses are quite diverse.
Metropolitan Mounted Police are used both on everyday patrols and also special task situations such as riots and other crowd control environments. In built up areas, the mounted police have a greater visibility when looking out over a crowd compared to their fellow officers on the ground or in cars. It also works as a deterrent in minimizing situations as the general public can see and respond to the mounted police. Given the size of these working horses they are also seen as quite intimidating to crowds. There are occasions where Mounted Police attend ceremonial occasions and parades.
In non-built up areas or natural reserves, horses are used both as a patrol unit and sometimes as in search and rescue operations. They are less damaging to the flora and fauna as opposed to vehicles and can go places where vehicles cannot while covering more distance than search and rescue crews on foot.
Equipment on the job
There are a few differences when it comes to the tack of a mounted police horse. A lighter weight saddle is used to assist in reducing the weight of the load. Police officers need to carry their regulation equipment that can weigh an of average 10lb (5.5kgs) so every effort is made to the horses tack to reduce the load for both the distances and hours worked. Horseshoes are made with a high traction surface to avoid slipping on sealed roads. Reflective straps for ankles and guards are just a few of the safety issue items that can be seen being worn by patrol horses. Riot horses wear protective armor which includes Perspex to protect their face and provide visibility.
With all of this equipment, there is a lot of training involved in not only desensitizing them to noise, people, and environments but also dealing with the change of tack or equipment.
Training for all mounted police horses is a constant activity. They are trained on different terrains including snow, sand, grass, pavement, bitumen and off track while also undertaking desensitization training that enables them to deal with crowds and loud noises to avoid spooking. Training is just as intense for the patrol officers responsible for their mounts. Just as the horse is tested so too are they. They must compete drills and tests that see them riding bareback and passing some obstacles. These include jumping while bareback, bending poles and riding bareback and without holding on. Even though horses are properly tacked up prior to duty, their rider needs to be prepared for any situation. Patrol and riot horses require exposure to drills with loud instruments and fireworks close by, to train them to have nerves of steel. A lot of trusts goes into both rider and horse.
Officers whose main role is not being active on mounted duty are also given training in basics horse handling to assist them in emergency situations.
So while the number of mounted horse police units decrease slowly around the world, there is still a place for them. The care and attention that these horses receive while on the job and even into retirement is a credit to the teams of people who work behind the scenes to ensure they receive nothing but the best. It’s nice to see that one of the first modes of transport has not been lost or superseded by modern technology.