Horses with Jobs: Police Horses
By Margaret Evans
Job Description: In many cities, the police force mounted unit plays an essential role in crowd control at demonstrations and large events. Horses add height and visibility, and act as ambassadors with the public.
On patrol for over a century, the Vancouver Police Mounted Unit was first formed in 1908 with 11 officers and 12 horses. A year later, the first patrolman on horseback was assigned to patrol Stanley Park. While the stables were originally based in the downtown area, a second stable was established close to the entrance to Stanley Park where the Mounted Unit continues to be centered today.
On patrol in the Downtown Eastside, Vancouver. Clyde (left) has been with the Vancouver Police Department since 2007. He is always eager to go to work, patient with crowds, and enjoys the fireworks at the annual Celebration of Light. Photo courtesy Vancouver Police Mounted Unitwell-mou7n
“We have space for 10 horses but we currently have nine,” says Sgt. Mark Steinkampf who has been with the Mounted Unit since December 2013. “We currently use gelded draft or draft-crosses over five years old. Our perfect horse would have a calm personality. We do have a mixture of personalities but all are curious, intelligent, and somewhat relaxed. I ride a Clydesdale/Percheron cross who came with the name Clyde. He stands 18 hands and is black with a white blaze and socks. Clyde is 13 years old and has been with the VPD since 2007. He was only 16.3 hands when we bought him from an Alberta ranch, but he had already been ridden, driven, and had pulled logs. He is laid back (except around the SkyTrain) and is very easy to work with. I enjoy working with Clyde because he is always eager to go out in the park or into the city. He is very patient around crowds and puts up with my lack of riding skill.”
Steinkampf said that Clyde, like every potential new horse, went through a 60-day probationary/training and assessment period prior to purchase and approval for regular deployment.
“Once they understand the basic aids, we begin common ‘nuisance’ training. They are exposed to scary items like bags, cans, umbrellas, balls, and more. Upon acceptance of those challenges, they are presented with situations that are more specific to police horses, such as navigating city traffic, groups of people, bicycles, fireworks, public safety (riot) training, and even gunfire. This is all done in a controlled setting until they are either deemed appropriate for policing, or not. If they successfully make it through all the challenges, they are taken on to the strength of the unit. Training does not stop and is a regular part of their day as much as it is also for the riders. If they do not pass training, they are returned to the owner.”
Daily patrols deploy from Stanley Park where they deal with typical police matters. Being mounted, they have an opportunity to interact with the public in a way that regular police officers can rarely do. When they are not in the park, they are riding in other focused areas of the city, whether English Bay, the West End, or the downtown core.
“The Vancouver Police Mounted Unit deploys to the Celebration of Light every year. Clyde and [his companion] horse seem to enjoy the fireworks as much as everyone else. We sit a few hundred metres from the beach and watch the light show. Clyde has his head tilted up watching the show. I do not know many horses that would do that.
“The Mounted Unit has several roles within the Vancouver Police Department. Public interaction is one of the most important. The horses are as popular with the locals as they are with tourists. I think that a lot of people do not have an opportunity to speak with a uniformed officer. That seems to change when we are on horseback. We are doing the same job as other police officers, but we have a chance to answer questions about what we do as much as answer questions about the horses.”
For more information, visit: The Vancouver Police Department Mounted Unit.
Main Photo: Horsing around at English Bay Beach, Vancouver, BC. Courtesy Vancouver Police Mounted Unit