Houston, Texas started a mounted patrol in 1984 with 14 horses. The patrol has grown to 38 horses today and has had a significant impact on crime in the downtown area of Houston. The mounted patrol assisted with evacuation efforts during Hurricane Katrina. The horses work from eight to ten hours each day on concrete and black asphalt.
Some of the horses have been donated, while other horses were purchased by the city. Six of the horses are either in training or waiting to be trained. The other 32 horses are each assigned to a police officer. The officer is entrusted to feed and care for the horse assigned to him/her.
The breeds of the horses include Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Tennessee Walker, Belgium, Dutch Warm bloods, Hanoverian and others. Only geldings or mares between the ages of two and 15 years are accepted into the program. The horse must pass a health physical by a certified veterinarian and be of gentle nature. There is a minimum height requirement for the program of 15.2 hands.
During an initial three month evaluation and assessment, the horse endures an obstacle course with smoke screens, tarps and loud noises from fireworks. The horse learns how to react during crowd control situations. The horse trains alone and with other patrol horses.
A portion of the training takes place at the Houston Intercontinental Airport and at some of the state parks. The ever changing terrain of the central business district of the city is the location for the final stage of training. In addition, the officers attend a four week horsemanship training class with their mount.
Over the years, additional horses were purchased. The purchased horses were generally drafts, draft crosses and warm bloods, which are larger breeds. It required a greater effort from the farriers to shoe the additional horses and larger breeds.
Natural hoof care was introduced to the police patrol in 2003-2004 by Officer Greg Sokoloski. The office obtained permission to try natural hoof care on his assigned horse after attending a hoof trimming training seminar. A hoof boot is utilized for horses with sensitive hooves during the transitioning phase until the hoof toughens. The natural hoof protocol worked well with his horse.
Joey, a horse from the patrol, had been treated by the veterinarian for chronic ‘navicular’ syndrome unsuccessfully. Officer Sokoloski was asked to care for Joey. The natural trimming process had Joey back to work within two weeks. Currently, there are four policemen that are trained to trim a shoeless hoof.
*Royalty-free photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.