police horse

How to Keep a Police Horse Safe When Crowd Control Situations Escalate

For all the modern technology and equipment used by law enforcement, a police horse remains an invaluable crowd control resource.

For centuries, the police horse has presented unruly mobs with an ominous physical presence that demands respect and helps deescalate rising tensions. The reality of a mounted officer or police horse unit is that a crowd cannot move or negotiate with an animal weighing more than one ton.

Law enforcement officials generally view a horse’s presence in potential riot scenes as worth 10 two-legged officers. And mounted police officers do more than put disorderly crowds on notice. They respond to traffic incidents, crimes in progress, and reach places where patrol cars typically cannot. It goes without saying that a police horse isn’t just a one-trick pony.

From The French Maréchaussée that formed during the 18th Century to the famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police to today’s frontline crowd control horses, police departments ask a seemingly unnatural effort from horses. A relatively docile animal is being asked to stand in front of loud, raucous humans and then move toward them as the situation worsens. The health and safety of miscreants, officers, and majestic steeds become tenuous in escalating environments. That’s why it’s crucial to employ techniques to keep the horse safe.

What Types of Horses Used in Crowd Control Units?

Equestrian units typically select from breeds with attributes favorable to mounted policing. The underlying traits often involve the right temperament and body type to both assert a massive physical presence and remain under the mounted officer’s command when situations grow volatile. These rank among the common breeds selected for frontline duty.

  • Percheron: This French breed is recognized for its powerful musculature and determined work ethic. Historically used as a workhorse, a Percheron mount weighs upwards of 2,100 pounds. Although considered a gentle type of horse, it delivers an intimidation factor that backs down unruly people.
  • Belgium: The shorter, stouter Belgian Draft Horse ranks among the fastest learners. Its thick musculature allows them to handle heavy lifting and present like an immovable object.
  • Quarter: This American breed ranks among the more versatile animals and acclimates to new situations and tasks well. The American Quarter Horse follows commands easily and remains a go-to breed for training purposes.
  • Thoroughbred: The thoroughbred horse is one of the most brilliant and versatile bred horses in the world today. This is mostly due to their speed and weight they are able to carry over long distances.

These rank among the varieties that have traditionally performed well. Police departments would be well-served to work with an expert to select mounts that can follow directions in escalating situations. But just like the frontline officers protecting themselves with riot gear, equipment, and rapid-response training, horse safety must also be addressed.

How Officers Keep Them Calm Under Intense Conditions

When asking a horse to work police patrol, the first order of business is to outfit the steed with protective gear. Items such as clear-plastic eye protection serve to deter objects thrown by unruly mobs from impacting the horse’s eyes. A mouth guard and lower-leg protections are also usually employed. In many ways, leg protections and eye guards mirror the lightweight shin protectors and face shields used in leading riot suits. But beyond providing the police horse with similar protective equipment, officers must possess the skills necessary to calm a startled horse. The following techniques can reduce stress and prevent the horse from reacting poorly under duress.

  • Remain Calm: When a horse bonds with a police officer, confidence develops. The police horse tends to base its behavior on the signals generated by the officer. A steady hand at the reins speaks volumes.
  • Reassurance: Escalating situations lead to heightened emotions among rioters, police officers, and horses alike. As the tension rises, pet the horse to provide a sense of reassurance. If the mount believes everything is under control, it is more likely to remain calm.
  • Lateral Flexion: As a mounted unit is tasked with moving forward to disburse and the unruly mob. Gently pulling the rein to one side helps prevent the horse from becoming spooked. It generally distracts from the chaos ahead.

Learn More Information about Mounted Patrol From Haven Gear

It’s also essential to keep in mind that the horse’s safety is inextricably linked to that of the mounted officer. Should the rider take a hard impact from a flying object, their control over the 2,000-pound animal can be compromised. That’s largely why police departments and law enforcement agencies rely on select riot gear for mounted units. The mounted riot suits produced by Haven Gear deliver blunt force resistance, head protection, hydration systems, and come body-cam ready. Without lightweight mounted riot gear, the officer and horse remain in harm’s way. To find out more about our full line of body and horse riot gear, contact Haven Gear.