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The Mounted Police Horse Debate
 By Winniefield Park   •   26th Aug 2016   •   1,325 views   •   0 comments


Whether or not horses should be used in policing is a topic of debate for some. But, right or wrong, horses provide a valuable service when used in police work. While cars, SUVs, ATVs, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles are often employed by law enforcement agencies to do their duties, the horse remains useful in a number of situations.

One of the most famous mounted police forces is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The RCMP are well known for their precision drill riding team that tours the country. But, the RCMP no longer uses horse for policing. Like many mounted police units around the world, horses are kept on for ceremonial purposes. But there are units where horses are still used in active police work.

Related: Should Police Horses Be Banned

One place that horses are more useful than motor vehicles is in crowd control. Horses put police officers higher up than those on foot, motorcycle or bicycle, allowing them to see and be seen. A mounted police officer has the advantage of seeing over a crowd. It’s easier to see what is happening and to communicate with a crowd from higher up. People (usually) instinctively will get out of the way of a horse, especially one in full riot gear. And, of course the height and size of a police horse can be intimidating for some in the crowd. A large crowd can get dangerous, so tactics used by mounted police help break crowds into smaller parts, without resorting to violence. The horses used for this type of work are often draft and draft crosses that are well trained and desensitized to noise and confusion.

Search and rescue is another line of police work where horses can’t be completely replaced by ATVs and other vehicles. When searching for a criminal, the noise of a vehicle can warn them to clear out. Horses can be almost silent. If someone is just lost and scared, the quietness of a horse can be less intimidating.

The height too, can be a benefit, as a searcher can see further than someone on an ATV or on foot. Horses can move faster, and go further than searchers on foot. They can also navigate rougher terrain and river crossings that might slow or stop a searcher on foot. And, they can get into terrain even ATVs can’t navigate. The horse isn’t just transportation however. The horse itself will notice things the searcher alone might not. “Look where the horse looks”, is something searchers learn, as horses will often notice scents or movements that humans don’t.

In urban areas, other than crowd control, mounted police patrol parks and are sometimes used in high tension neighbourhoods. The presence of a mounted officer is often enough to prevent petty crimes and antisocial behavior. While a horse used in crowd control may be intimidating in a riotous crowd, it can be quite the opposite in a neighborhood. The horse is often the starting point for communication between the police and the residents. People are more likely to interact with a police officer on a horse, than one on foot or bicycle.

Unfortunately, there are downsides to using horses in policing. As many of us know, keeping a horse is not an inexpensive endeavor and many police forces have cut their mounted units because of lack of funds. Using horses in policing puts them in harm’s way, and that evokes accusations of abuse from some animal activists. Activists fear too, that horses are kept in confined quarters, ridden on hard pavement, and lead very unnatural lives. And of course, horses make manure, which some find offensive.

Despite the controversies and downsides of policing on horseback, some police forces have either started or reformed their mounted units. Mounted police units are found in countries around the world and are serving and protecting in cities like New York, Calgary, London, St. Paul, Tokyo, Toronto and others.

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Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Horse Dies

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