Photo Courtesy Dreamstime_s_24409748
Police officers sitting on glossy mounts are a nation’s friendly ambassadors—dubbed 10-foot cops because together they can be spotted even in a crowded area. The team draws children of all ages—one partner is often patted on the nose—and they are amongst the most popular couples ever to be photographed by a camera. The mounted police help with traffic, manage crowd control, rein in lawbreakers and encourage busy citizens of and visitors to a city to pause, admire, and smile.
London’s Bow Street Horse Patrol became the first mounted police force in 1760 and employed eight men though many historians believe the first use of mounted horses began with King Charles’s Articles of War published in 1629. Sir John Fielding, the Bow Street magistrate, produced a plan for mounted patrols to deal with highwaymen who preyed on travelers using the roads that led in and out of the city. By 1805, more than 50 men—dressed in scarlet waistcoats, blue greatcoats and trousers and black leather hats and stocks—were able to protect all the main roads within 20 miles of Charing Cross. Their role changed in the early 1800s when poverty in rural areas led to the theft of domestic animals—the patrols carried swords in addition to sabers as apprehending thieves was considered a highly dangerous job.
Between 1800 and 1850, mounted police units were founded in Dublin, Ireland and Calcutta, India. Australia used mounted patrols during the 1851 gold rush and to hunt fugitives who evaded the law. Today, the units locate people lost in rough country and recover stolen domestic animals.
Horses have been used by New York City’s police since 1845. By 1857, officers rode horseback to halt runaway horses and carriages. A headline in The New York World—written on September 9, 1897—tells this story.
“Policeman Stops a Runaway Trotter.”
“Mounted Policeman Frawley and the bay Stallion, Belton, driven by John Kelly, figured yesterday in a big but unexpected event at Fleetwood Park...The wild animal shot past the field and reached the head of the stretch when Policeman Frawley seeing the situation dug the spurs into his horse. The race to the wire was a hot one, but the policeman won...leaning he caught the runaway by the bridle and stopped him a few feet beyond the judge’s stand.”
The United States Police Horse-Mounted Unit, created in 1934 with one horse rented from a stable, is one of the oldest police equestrian organizations in the United States. Parks with equestrian paths, a stretch of land, picnic grounds, and ball fields could be more efficiently safeguarded by horse patrols than by foot patrolmen or vehicles. Horse mounted patrols were later expanded and used in Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan area, New York City, and San Francisco during parades, and public meetings.
Approximately 30-years ago, The Boston Parks and Recreation System formed The Boston Park Rangers Mounted Unit in nine parks—called the Emerald Necklace—designed by Frederick Law Olmstead more than a century ago. San Francisco’s mounted patrol unit began with 30 steeds helping to protect the city, today there are 13 patrol horses in Golden Gate Park—training is difficult—they must follow commands and go through a program that acquaints them with the clamor of large, urban areas. The horses are skilled at crowd control on New Year’s Eve. Curious and friendly, the horses make a noticeable impression and can restore order without injuring people.
Beginning in 1899 and for more than a century mounted officers could be seen all over Philadelphia including Fairmont Park, and Rittenhouse Square. Today twelve officers remain. Philadelphia’s stable of fifteen horses include a Dutch horse who performed a series of difficult exercises in his former career in dressage, and a rescued Belgian draft who had worked pulling farm wagons.
Horse-mounted patrols are used by the Los Angeles Police Department, established in 1987, as part of the Metropolitan Division. Thirty-five policemen and forty horses are present at assemblies, festivals, parades, public parks and beaches during the summer plus the search and rescue of lost and missing persons in mountainous and dense terrain.
A mounted police officer, his uniform a vivid red coat and a Stetson hat and his horse have represented Canada since 1880. “The Mounties always get their man,” is a familiar saying to anyone that loves motion pictures.
Height, weight, gender, age and disposition are important. Large horses—approximately 15.2 hands tall and between a thousand and twelve hundred pounds compliment the weight of sturdy officers. Police departments prefer horses between three and seven years old—Clydesdale mixes, American quarter horses, and Tennessee Walkers—who will have a long career on patrol encouraging warm personal relations between the mounted officer and the communities they serve.
Despite the fine work achieved by the mounted police, their numbers have diminished. Police cars, motorcycles, bicycles and foot patrolmen are seen more often today while the elite horse mounted units are used as a supplement to traditional patrol units, for crowd control and for special occasions such as parades and funerals. The horse continues to encourage warm personal relations between the mounted officer and the communities they serve—ambassadors of good will.
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