Mounted police officers are law enforcement professionals tasked with patrolling a designated area on horseback to provide crowd control and promote public safety.
Mounted police officers are most frequently involved with crowd control for events and also monitor populated areas to ensure public welfare. The officer’s horse greatly enhances their physical presence and authority in a crowd control situation, and it also can facilitate interaction with citizens that might not usually choose to approach law enforcement officers. The horses are a particularly strong draw in the city, since residents may not often have the chance to see or interact with horses.
Other routine duties for mounted officers may include participating in search and rescue operations, patrolling parks or wildlife preserves, pursuing suspects in rugged terrain, providing an escort for police funerals, participating in parades, and doing community service work like visiting schools. They are also tasked with normal police duties such as writing case reports and providing testimony in court cases.
Most police offers are involved with the care and feeding of their mounts, though it is not uncommon for a station with a mounted unit to have a full time groom and barn manager on staff. Officers may also be involved in transporting their horses via trailer to service areas not within riding distance.
Mounted police officers must be prepared to work nights and weekends to provide coverage for special events. They must also be able to tolerate working outdoors in extreme weather conditions including rain, snow, and intense heat.
The most famous mounted police unit in the world is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force. The “Mounties” are known for their scarlet coated officers and black horses.
In the United States, many cities retain at least a small mounted unit. One of the largest mounted units is located in New York City. In addition to police departments, potential employers can also include the military and the U.S. Parks Service.
Education and Training
Those hoping to become a mounted officer must begin by completing the training to become a regular police officer. This usually requires several months of training in the police academy and completing a probationary period as a junior officer after they are sworn in. An officer must usually serve for three years before being able to apply for the mounted unit, and the waiting list can be long for such positions as they are highly desirable and only a limited number are ever available.
The length of the training program for a mounted officer can vary based on the unit’s requirements and the officer’s riding ability. It is common for the training to last somewhere between three and six months and it involves riding lessons and coursework. The coursework may include topics such as horsemanship, equine behavior, anatomy and physiology, advanced crowd control techniques, search and rescue training, equitation, and more.
One of the most respected training programs is offered at the U.S. Park Police Horse Mounted Unit in Washington D.C. This program requires more than 400 hours of instruction before graduation. The instructors from the U.S Park Police travel regularly across the country to provide training clinics to other police departments. Instructors from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police also provide similar training clinics in the United States.
Police horses also undergo an extensive selection and training process before they are approved for use in a mounted unit. Commonly selected breeds include Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, and draft horses (or crosses of such breeds), and horses used for police work are almost always geldings (castrated males). Once chosen for training, the horses are put through an intensive desensitization program to minimize their reaction to sights and sounds that would normally cause a flight response. They also spend many hours working with their human partner to solidify their relationship.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not offer specific salary data for mounted officers, but it does provide information on the earnings for all police officers. According to the BLS, the median salary for police officers was $60,270 in 2015. The lowest compensated ten percent of officers earned less than $34,170, while the most highly compensated ten percent of officers earned more than $100,560.
The BLS projects that job growth for police officers will grow at a rate of about 4 percent from 2014 to 2024, slightly slower than the average rate for all professions surveyed. The BLS points out that the number of job opportunities can vary wildly from one jurisdiction to the next, as police positions are dictated by government funding.
Competition for mounted patrol positions should remain extremely strong, as there are only limited opportunities in this specialty segment of police work. Many cities have also reduced the number of mounted officers in recent years due to the expense of maintaining the horses and the extensive training that is required for the horse and rider teams.