Horses a Valuable Part of Police Work
by Ute Carson
The Galveston Daily News October 9, 1990

Steel-reinforced and supercharged, a squad car is built for speed, needs minimum maintenance and is virtually impregnable.

A horse has a depletable energy reserve, needs daily feeding and grooming, and is vulnerable to physical attack.

The two seem beyond comparison. And yet studies of crowd management and re ports of the pursuit and apprehension of individual troublemakers show that the comparison is valid. In fact, in some situations the horse is the superior choice. The reasons are deeply rooted in our fascination with horses.

Toddlers love a rocking horse, and children gravitate toward horses on a merry go-round. Mythological horses are endowed with wings, and the chariot of the sun is drawn by horses to announce the dawning and passing of each day. In ancient religions, horses bear the dead through the gates of heaven. Horses carry knights into battle and saints through vision-filled forests. The horse suggested supple strength and grace to the French painter Degas, who portrayed the same qualities in his better known ballerinas. For his countryman, Gaugin, the horse was a figure of gentle beauty, affectionate and secure. Countless stories explore relationships between horses and humans. Everyone knows Black Beauty.

People tend to be of two minds about horses. They admire them and they fear them. The sheen of the coat, the ripple of the muscles, the flow of mane and tail, the elegant gaits and the speed all evoke admiration. The rumble of galloping hooves, the flaring nostrils, the rearing, kicking and bolting imply danger and inspire fear. What do these images and emotions have to do with mounted police work?

The sight of a beautiful animal on a city street appeals to people. Tourists want to touch the horse and have their picture taken with it. Horses remind us of life lived closer to the land. Officer Parker remarked in a recent Galveston Daily News article, "Kids are startled by the fact that horses eat grass."

People are drawn to horses for the same reason that urbanites keep pets. They are a vital connection to nature. And just as nature can be gentle or ferocious, a police horse can nuzzle a passerby on The Strand or pursue a terrified robbery suspect down a narrow alley and pin him against a wall, as police horse Fields did not too long ago.

Cars and motorcycles are indispensable tools in police work, but horses are companions. Horse and rider are a team, and their effectiveness depends on mutuality and co operation. A police horse must be we11 trained, under control and responsive.

But every rider knows that even the best schooled horse remains deeply instinctual. Sensing danger, a horse's basic instinct is that of flight. A car backfiring, an empty plastic bag sent sailing by a gust of wind, a hastily unfurled umbrella can cause a horse to panic. Good riders take pride in anticipating their mounts' reactions, but they also remain alert to the unpredictable and maintain a healthy respect for the potentially explosive power beneath their saddles.

The police horse is an image builder. In a car, an officer is protected but also isolated, whereas from the height of a horse's back, the mounted officer is at once imposing and accessible. In a crisis, a mounted officer can quickly spot the trouble. He or she can be called to by voice and can respond in kind. The very sight of a horse can soothe an anxious crowd. And a hostile person thinks twice before attacking a thousand pound animal. Police horses build bridges of understanding between law enforcement officials and the community. They break barriers of mistrust and correct misconceptions. It's hard to think of a mounted officer as a cop.

Images of the horse are alive in all of us. They influence the excellent work of mounted patrols. But of course without the horse sense of the officers who ride, the work would not get done.

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