Mounted police units are on display across the world, but probably the most famous are the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP is Canada's national police force and is recognized worldwide. It was formed in 1920 with the merger of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police and the Dominion Police, both of which were established in the late 1800s.
Historical reference to mounted police can be traced back to as early as 1629 to the Articles of War established by King Charles. In the 19th century, the British model was introduced to the United States and during this time, mounted police forces were utilized in India, Canada, the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific colonies. The mounted police flourished until the automobile became the prevalent mode of transportation. In addition to the British model, Texas developed the policing tradition of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers influenced Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. More recently, Colorado established an all volunteer Colorado Rangers which still exists today.
Today, metropolitan police around the world have added mounted units to assist in policing their precincts. In the United States Sherriff departments supervise mounted posses and volunteer rescue units. Countries such as Australia, Spain, France, Italy, and even Switzerland have divisions of mounted police. Canada has mounted patrols in different metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Many police units are small with less than ten officers, but others have around 50-60 mounted officers. Each has their own criteria for the horse and tack as well as the training of horse and officer recruits.
Horses and Tack Used by Metropolitan Police
Most of the metropolitan police with mounted units have strict criteria that the horse and riders must meet. The majority of units require the horse to be at least 15.2 hands tall. Some units, such as the Long Beach, California Mounted Police require the horse to be golden palomino. This unit has ridden in the Tournament of Roses Parade since 1948. The tack used is black with silver trim; the riders wear traditional western pants, black boots, white hats and embroidered western shirts. Likewise, the Cleveland Mounted Police has ridden in several presidential inaugural parades including those of Harding in 1921, Eisenhower in 1953 and George H.W. Bush in 1989. Currently, the RCMP does not use horses for operational purposes bus does use them in the Musical Ride which is an equestrian event to showcase the riding skills of the Mounties. In the Middle East, many of the mounted police units ride camels rather than horses. Many mounted units use saddles made of synthetics rather than leather because they are more lightweight.
In most of the metropolitan mounted police units, the horses are around seven to nine years old when they are recruited and many units require the horses to be geldings, which are castrated male horses. New York City Mounted Police have shifted to larger horses, using horses 15.3-16 hands tall and larger stockier horses such as cross-breeds of Percheron-Quarter horse and Warmbloods. The New York Mounted Police units use a western type of saddle similar to an Australian saddle that is more lightweight. The horses generally are not brought out when the weather is 18 degrees or colder or 90 degrees or higher.
Horses used for police work have to have a "bomb-proof" disposition as they not only have police duties, but also are considered ambassadors for the field. They have been known to be called "the 10-foot Cop" as they give the riding officer a higher visual of the surrounding area as well as being easily visible to citizens.
Duties of the Mounted Police
Horses used for mounted patrols have many duties. They patrol parks and other areas vehicles are unable to traverse as well as being used for riot or crowd control. When used for this latter, the horses wear protective head gear around their eyes, similar to a helmet visor. In urban areas, the horses are fitted with high-traction shoes or rubber soles.
In the more rural areas, mounted units are used for search and rescue. Horses are able to travel in mountainous terrain where vehicles can't go. In addition, the border patrol uses horses to patrol the United States-Mexican border in some areas. In the United Kingdom, mounted police are often used at football matches to keep the crowds orderly.
Protection of Police Horses
There is some controversy over the use of horses for police work. Those opposed cite injuries to horses and citizens. Mounted units are often exposed to risk from angry crowds as are the people in the crowd. In addition, walking on the hard pavement for hours can be damaging to the horse. However, the horses used for mounted patrols are usually well cared for by experienced handlers and grooms. Upon retirement, the horses of the New York Mounted Police are either "put out to pasture" in a retirement stable or adopted out and monitored for their continued well-being.
Several states have laws written to protect horses used by mounted police units. California, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and Wyoming all have laws to protect police horses. In both New York and Wyoming it is a felony charge to injure or kill a police horse.
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