Ever wondered why in some countries the police use horses? Even with today’s technology and a multitude of tools available to the police, horses are still often deployed in some areas.
Despite access to the latest and greatest of technologies, in many large cities around the world a mounted police division is business as usual. And has been so for centuries.
Horses are not just a means of transport for the police, you’ll be surprised to find out that beyond giving police a ride while patrolling, horses fulfill many important roles in law enforcement.
In this article, I’m going to cover the top 5 reasons police use horses and the countries that still use mounted police.
5 Reasons Police Use Horses
Regardless of a country’s level of development, it’s not unusual to see police riding around horses. Here are 5 of the most common reasons why mounted police still makes sense:
– Better Visibility
It’s no question that mounted police are at a height advantage compared to policemen driving around in police cars.
The height affords cops better visibility in detecting dangerous situations or altercations. With better visibility, comes a quicker response time, so the police can often stop altercations and fights before things get too far.
Visibility works the other way around too. It’s easier to spot a mounted policeman and ask for help when in need.
– Crowd Control
Efficient crowd control is possibly one of the strongest arguments in favor of mounted police. It’s not only that police riding on horses will have a much better visibility, they’ll also be able to better move through thick pockets of people.
Also, they’ll potentially break up crowds more easily, since most people will readily get out of the way of a horse.
Therefore, it’s not unusual to see mounted police following football or soccer matches, large concerts, or during strikes, protests or riots.
Unruly crowds can be more easily dispersed, and altercations managed (e.g., when a fight breaks out between the fans of two opposing teams) by mounted police.
– Easy Maneuvering
A police riding on a horse will have an easier time getting around large crowds and even move around thigh areas where cars would not normally fit, such as narrow streets, walkways, or shopping streets.
Apart from that, horses can easily enter parks or other areas, where cars could not normally enter.
– Search & Rescue Operations
Horses can offer tremendous help in search and rescue operations as well. They can provide easy access on rough terrain, thick bush, allowing the police to see far ahead.
Horses can also help in carrying supplies and covering large areas. They can do so for long periods of time, all the while helping offer better visibility for police officers engaged in the rescue operations.
A horse trotting around in a big city is not something that goes unnoticed. Mounted police report that their horses draw in people for a conversation and afford police an image of approachableness.
Whether it’s because a police officer mounted on a horse gives off a more amiable vibe or whether horses are efficient tools in controlling large masses, it’s no question that horses have a useful and important role in law enforcement.
It is also said that horses have a pacifying effect when engaged in maintaining order at large events.
Not all horses are a good fit for police work. And that’s something I’m going to discuss in the next few sections of this article.
What Kind of Horses do Police Use?
For a horse to be considered for work in a police department, it must show some qualities that can’t be found in just any horse.
Horses that are considered for police work are usually thoroughbreds or draft horses or mixes.
But where do these horses come from? It depends on the country. In some countries, police departments rely on donations to acquire horses and they work with local or national breeders to source horses that meet certain requirements.
Horses must have the right temperament, size, agility and stamina. Although police horses may seem composed and calm in stressful situations, it’s not something that’s natural for all horses.
Horses are usually flighted animals, who will run away from danger not towards it. But police work often requires that horses go into large crowds and potentially dangerous situations.
Therefore, the temperament of a horse is one of the many aspects that’s taken into account when considering them for police work.
A curious horse but one that won’t react to every stimulus is a temperament that’s fit for police work. A calm demeanor is essential for a police horse.
Apart from these, physical agility and stamina are also crucial, given that police horses can spend long hours engaged in search and rescue operations, patrolling or other situations that require strength and physical fitness.
This is the reason why, generally, larger and sturdier horses are favored over others for this type of work.
Therefore, both physical aptitude and mental soundness are prerequisites for police horses. Of course, horses undergo training along with their handlers to acquire further skills needed for working in law enforcement.
What Are Police Horses Trained to Do?
Just as police dogs and guide dogs, for example, horses undergo lots of different types of training, so they can carry out the tasks they’re hired to do.
Police horses undergo various types of training to desensitize them to loud noises such as shrieking children, fireworks, gunfire, sirens, and loud music.
Horses are desensitized to smoke and made to feel comfortable around all sorts of people of all ages.
Besides training that’s focused on dealing with visual and auditory stimuli, horses are also trained to maneuver through crowds without hurting any people, walk through water and rugged terrain, or walk in areas with low visibility.
All these skills take time to master. Training a horse to become apt for field work takes months and months. It’s also a gradual process.
Horses are first placed into low-stress situations, then the stress factor is gradually increased. Their behavior and adaptability is assessed at each stage of the program.
Horses are also integrated gradually into public settings and their behaviors are further assessed, all the while continuing their training.
Some police departments have their own training programs, others bring in specialists from the outside to train their horses for police work.
Horses can fall out from training programs at various stages. This is why few horses actually end up becoming police horses.
Some horses may fit the psychological profile that’s required but don’t have the physical stamina that’s needed of them, or other horses may be too easily distracted or fearful of certain situations, which ultimately makes them unfit for police work.
When not on active duty, police horses are kept in stables maintained by the police department. Police horses are cared for either by their handles or specialized personnel.
When not in the line of duty, horses relax, exercise, have access to routine veterinary check-ups and continue their training.
As for the age at which horses can be accepted in training programs, there’s a lot of variety. Generally, younger horses are preferred. Horses as young as 2 years old can enroll, but even horses that are older are accepted.
As for their gender, both mares and geldings are accepted. Besides all these, horses must pass a veterinary check and have a clean bill of health.
When police horses retire, they are either returned to their previous owners or they go on living in animal sanctuaries for a well-deserved retirement after their years of service.
In Which Countries do Police Use Horses?
Close to 50 countries in the world maintain a mounted police division. Most iconic mounted police divisions among these include:
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police known as Mounties, are responsible for enforcing federal law in Canada.
- Mounted police in the United Kingdom such as the City of London Police Mounted Section or the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch.
- New York City Department Mounted Police Unit.
Several states in the U.S.A as well as nearly all European Union countries also maintain mounted police divisions. But many other countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and others all have police horses.
Therefore, the use of horses in police work is a widespread phenomenon around the world, and not unique to only a few countries.
It’s an undisputed fact that animals like horses and dogs are an indispensable asset in police work. Whether it’s search and rescue or crowd control, horses offer many advantages to police engaged in tracking, maintaining order, dispersing crowds or intervening in altercations.
Horses along with their handlers undergo training that prepares them for lots of possible scenarios and how to handle those.
But not any horse can be trained to do police work. Only horses with the best stamina, agility and certain psychological profile can become police horses.
And while certain countries are more noteworthy than others for their mounted police, many other countries worldwide use and train horses to assist police officers in the line of duty.Horse Facts