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By Janice L. Holland for ELCR

As access to land for equestrian activity becomes an increasing concern in and around urban areas, the horse-human connection is threatened. Mounted police have helped support this connection in many of our more urban communities, but how are these units faring, and how have urbanization and budget issues impacted mounted patrols in communities across the country?


Formal mounted police units could be found in Europe and Great Britain from the mid to late 1700s. Some the oldest and more famous units include the London Bow Street Police in England and the French Maréchaussée. In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had their beginnings in the 1870s. In the United States, a ranger force was organized in 1835 as an auxiliary military body during the Texas revolution. They did not appear in official legislation as the “Texas Rangers” until 1873. According to Rick Pelicano, North American Police Equestrian Council Secretary, “The first formal mounted police unit was in New York City in 1858. It was comprised of former US Cavalry officers, hence the reason mounted police often wear crossed sabres on their uniform.”

Mounted units found favor where areas to be covered were large and using wagons or carriages was difficult due to poor road conditions. Horses would provide the benefits of speed, sure-footedness, agility, and endurance. In the United States, there are national, state, and local units.

The type of horse used by mounted units varies across the country and by the type of work the horses are asked to do. According to Captain Lisa Rakes, Mounted Unit Commander of the Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police, the age of horse used depends on factors including the preference of the unit trainer and the riding ability of the officers. Breed also varies, with mustangs and quarter horses being used in more western states and for search and rescue. Draft crosses are often used by more urban troops, as they are exposed to larger crowds and tend to be quieter and more docile. If officers are providing their own mounts, there is likely to be more variety in breed. In many units the horses are classified as officers, so are offered the same protections, and injury to a horse is considered a felony.

Functions and Benefits of Mounted Police

The LAPD Mounted Platoon assists in crowd control at downtown events. Photo courtesy of LAPD Mounted Platoon.

Crowd Control

Mounted police have proven to be very effective in crowd control, especially at large gatherings, such as parades, athletic events, and demonstrations. For many people, horses demand respect that might not be given to police cars or policemen on foot. People are less likely to approach a horse in a threatening manner than they may approach a human or automobile. When you watch horses being used, people usually are easier to move and push than with police in riot gear or in vehicles.

Foot chases

Horses are quick on their feet and agile. Mounted police can follow people in places where cars, motorcycles, and even bicycles may not be able to go. They can cover long distances without tiring, so usually the person(s) being chased will tire before the horse and rider.

Search and Rescue

Mounted police are called in for help in search and rescue missions for many of the same reasons they are effective in crowd control and foot chases. They can cover long distances and go places that would be difficult for motor vehicles. Riders are also situated higher than in/on motor vehicles or when on foot, which helps them see across greater distances. In addition, items can be carried on horseback, such as water and first aid supplies, which can help with the rescue.


Officer Privett and Poppy. Photo courtesy of the Delaware County (OH) Sheriff’s Office.

Public Relations

Besides the work they do, mounted units are also an excellent resource for public relations. They are majestic to see and well received by the general public. People, adults and children alike, want to approach them and get their hands on them. In many urban communities, this may be the only chance people have to see, touch, and “experience” a horse up close, particularly younger people.

Many units are available for events, especially educational ones. They are also often present in parades and other ceremonies. An excellent example of this is the Delaware County (Ohio) Mounted Deputy Unit, which was established in 1967. While they are used in crowd control and search and rescue, they are also a highly popular ceremonial and community relations unit. In addition, in late 2021, the Sheriff’s Office brought on a miniature horse named Poppy to serve as a therapy horse. She and her handler, Corrections Officer Privett, completed their training and certification with Seven Oaks Farm.Police horses can also be ambassadors for our equine community at large. Their presence may make residents more aware of and sympathetic to horses and the problems horse owners face when keeping them in or around our urban areas. Captain Rakes believes the public relations aspect of Mounted Policing is its greatest benefit. “The horse softens people and provides a connection between the police and public,” she said. She has seen people at huge sold-out events in the Lexington area who don’t seem to mind sitting in traffic because they are interested in getting pictures or video of the mounted police.  They are smiling, waving, and want to say hello.


Threats to Mounted Police Units

In a report by W.E. Carfield published by the National Institute of Justice in 1982, he estimated there were about 80 mounted units in the United States. Currently there are over 150 mounted units located in 40 states and Washington, DC. This does not include patrols that are part of the National Park police or border patrol. Although there was an increase in the number of units from the ’80s, the officers interviewed for this article believe this number is now on the decline for a variety of reasons. A list of units in the United States, listed by state, is located here: Mounted police are found around the world, with some of more famous units located in England and Canada. The link Mounted Units Around the World shows where mounted units can be found. Although there was an increase from the 1980s to now, these units must work constantly against a variety of factors which threaten their existence.


Budget constraints are among the biggest issues that mounted patrols face. The cost of maintaining horses properly is sometimes more than a town/community wants to take on. Included in costs are feed, bedding, veterinary and farrier care, as well as tack and equipment needs. While some units have mounts donated, many must purchase horses for their patrols. A fully trained horse can cost between $5,000 and $12,000, depending on type and level of training, and that does not include the yearly costs for maintenance.

Captain Rakes believes the value of a mounted police officer and their horse to a department is hard to quantify against a traditional budget. “We can use the police horse as a way to start a conversation with a complete stranger and before you know it, the horse has created a line of communication,” she explained. “No one walks up to an officer and asks to pet his cruiser. The police horse is a magnet. It attracts and invites folks who want to relive their past, tell stories, or just pet a horse—something money can’t buy.”

Rick Pelicano, Secretary of the North American Police Equestrian Council (NAPEC) agrees. “Unfortunately, many politicians see only the money it takes to fund a unit and often overlook the positive interaction with the community that should not have a price,” he said.

Space Requirements

Horses also need space. Even those housed within city limits still need space for turnout and exercise.  Sometimes this space, especially if in a populated area, may become earmarked for other uses.

An officer works through an obstacle at the 2017 North American Police Equestrian competition. Photo courtesy of NAPEC.

Training Costs (Horse and Rider)

To be a good, solid mount, special training is required. The horses have to go beyond being the typical “bomb proof” horse for lessons or parades. Training can take several months when the horse is not available for use. It can also be hard to find appropriate horses; only about 10 percent of horses who start training will “graduate.”  Several officers mentioned that one way to decrease this cost is to be smarter about choosing horses which best fit the job. Some units purchase horses from an established police horse training program, such as the one located at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky (

The police officers chosen for the mounted unit will also need to be trained. They not only need to know how to ride but also have to be comfortable continuing the training and routine care of their horse. The National Mounted Police Colloquium ( is one place where officers and mounts can receive additional training. Held at the Kentucky Horse Park, this event has been happening for over 37 years and is a great way for units from not only the United States, but other countries, to meet and train. This event is open to visitors at the Kentucky Horse Park, and includes a friendly competition. The North American Police Equestrian Council also holds an annual event, usually in the spring, called the North American Police Equestrian Competition. This event also has training sessions and competitions, and the public is welcome.

Units Lost or Transitioned

The officers and units interviewed for this article provided information on mounted patrols they know have been lost around the country. Most were disbanded due to the reasons highlighted above.  Other units have been moved to other departments, to serve more in “community engagement.”

Kansas City, MO

In Kansas City, the mounted unit was disbanded in 2019, even though they had an outside private group, Friends of the KC Mounted Patrol, which helped support the unit. The reason cited was an outside consultant’s recommendation that there was a need for more detectives, especially in the Violent Crimes Division. All mounted officers were put back to regular patrol. Members of the Friends of the KC Mounted Patrol are hopeful the unit can be revived, believing they are more effective in community outreach. However, there is resistance from other organizations, such as Kansas City Law Enforcement Accountability Project and Decarcerate KC, who believe the increased police presence does more harm than good and that funds would be better spent on providing mental health care, housing, and education in crime-ridden areas.

Cincinnati, OH

The mounted patrol unit in Cincinnati was disbanded in 2013. Reasons for the decision included budget cuts and manpower issues, and city officials believed officers on bicycles could be just as effective.  Some believed the horses were a “luxury item” and could not justify keeping them when other departments around the country were eliminating their units. The police department has kept some of the equipment, and the Cincinnati Mounted Patrol Committee, a non-profit which supported the unit in the past, still hopes the unit can be re-established.

Boston, MA

Founded in 1873, the Boston Police Mounted Unit was one of the oldest mounted police units in the United States and at one point had more than 100 horses. This unit was used for crowd control, as support for parades, and to patrol areas inaccessible to vehicles. It was disbanded in 2009 due to budget cuts that meant the unit could no longer support the training and care of both horses and officers. A group called Friends of the Boston Police has been working the past few years to raise funds to support a mounted patrol.

Washington, DC

The mounted unit of the Metropolitan Police Department was disbanded in 2020 after being reinstated in 2000 after a 70-year absence. The reason was, again, due to budget cuts from the City Council. Although small, the unit was used as a police presence at community events, block parties, parades, protests, and inaugurations. They also helped with traffic and crowd control and were thought to be an excellent community-oriented ambassador arm of the police. Although there have been petitions to bring the unit back, it has not happened as of this time.

Baltimore, MD

The mounted police unit in Baltimore, MD, is one which was disbanded in 2020 for several of the above reasons. This unit had been a presence for over 130 years and at one point had 25 horses patrolling the downtown area, although in 2020 there were only four. Initially it was thought the unit would be moved to a new facility on the grounds of the B&O Railroad Museum. But then the Baltimore City Council, citing a need to cut the budget, eliminated the funding for the mounted unit. Since then, the unit has been “saved” by moving it from Police to the Recreation and Parks Department, where the horses are used mostly in community engagement activities.



Success Stories

Mounted units are an excellent way for police to interact with the community. Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Lexington (KY) Mounted Police Facebook page.

Public support and foundations can help these amazing units survive the threats and provide funding to maintain their activities. There are many success stories around the country, and a few are highlighted here. These examples include some which were brought back after being disbanded and others which developed foundations to help fund costs related to the mounted units. Public input, like letting the local government know of your support, and development of a board or “friends” group help to keep the units going.

Lexington, KY

The Lexington (Kentucky) Mounted Police Unit started with a single horse and rider in 1982. At one time there were nine horses and eight riders, and currently there are five horse-rider pairs. The horses were first stabled at the Kentucky Horse Park, but since 1996 the horses have been stabled in downtown Lexington. The Kentucky Horse Park still maintains its own state-certified mounted law enforcement unit.

These two separate groups work together annually to host the National Mounted Police Colloquium every fall, which is attended by mounted units from around the country. At the end of this colloquium there is a Civilian Equine Sensory Training Clinic, where average citizens can bring their personal horses to experience some of the training these horses undergo.

The Friends of the Lexington Mounted Police (FLMP) is a non-profit organization which supports the city’s mounted unit, as well as being heavily involved in hosting the annual National Mounted Police Colloquium. To help offset the cost of the unit, the FLMP solicits tax-deductible monetary donations as well as donations of goods and services. More on the efforts of the FLMP can be found here:

Bethlehem, PA

The Bethlehem Mounted Police have support from around the community, including the local college equestrian team. Photo credit: FBMP

The Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) Mounted Patrol was re-introduced to the city and community after a 63-year absence. According to Greg Solderitch—Bethlehem Police Department Captain (Ret.), founding member of the Mounted Patrol Unit, and founding board member of the Friends of the Bethlehem Mounted Police—the unit was established to help with crowd control at the many festivals held in the city. “Horses can go where patrol cars, bikes, and officers on foot cannot, and they provide additional and obvious police presence,” he said. “They are also great public relations and community engagement.”

Three years after the mounted patrol was brought back, a private, not-for-profit group called Friends of the Bethlehem Mounted Police (FBMP) was formed. With their help in gathering donations and sponsorships, and without taxpayer money, a facility was built which includes eight stalls, 10 acres of pasture, outdoor shelters, training arena, and a building for educational programming for the community. This organization continues to support, through public awareness activities, fundraising, and promotion of the public-police partnership. More about this group can be found here:

Los Angeles, CA

The LAPD Mounted Platoon started in 1981 as a volunteer mounted unit. Officers from throughout the department volunteered their time, horses, and transportation to support the efforts of the department. In 1988, the City of Los Angeles established a full-time mounted unit, which currently has 32 horses. A non-profit foundation has been established, called The Los Angeles Mounted Police Foundation, which is used to acquire new horses, train both horses and riders, maintain the Ahmanson Equestrian Facility, and provide support of youth programs. Donations to this foundation come from a variety of sources, including community and business organizations, as well as individual donations from the general public.

Charleston, SC

The mounted patrol was brought back to Charleston after being gone for over 10 years, when they were disbanded due to budget cuts. They now work mainly in the tourist and business district and also are a presence at community outreach events. The Charleston PD believe they serve a purpose to bridge the gap between police and citizens, are approachable, and are a highly visible part of community relations. Several local organizations, such as Palmetto Carriage Works, the Charleston Downtown Alliance, and Explore Charleston, work together in a public-private partnership to make this possible. Explore Charleston believes the increased presence and visibility of law enforcement will enhance safety in the city.  The LENS Foundation hosts such events as “Boots, Bluegrass & BBQ,” with food, music, and auctions to raise funds to support the unit.




How Mounted Police Training Can Benefit You and Your Horse

Asbury University (KY) students participate in training at the National Mounted Police Colloquium. Photo courtesy of Cinelle Claassens, Clovelle Photography.

The public can also be involved and learn more through sensory training seminars. These are usually an opportunity for the public to bring their personal horses to a clinic and learn about some of the training and desensitizing which is done. A good example of such an event is the Civilian Equine Sensory Training Clinic held each year in conjunction with the National Mounted Police Colloquium. According to Captain Rakes, this clinic was started in 2005 after a board member mentioned having difficulties with her personal horse and said she was impressed by how well-behaved the patrol horses in her local downtown were. “She thought this would be a great way to connect with the horse community, by having mounted police officers teach how they train their horses to be ridden in the urban environments,” Rakes said. All sessions are taught by mounted officers and vary from one year to the next, depending on what clinicians are at the colloquium. Using the same training they do with their own mounts, the instructors work the civilians through obstacle training, troop drill, and equitation.

How to Help

There are a variety of ways you can help your local mounted units. Many have opportunities for you to volunteer at their barns. They may also have a list of donations needed, such as feed, tack, and other supplies, and you could either donate items individually or organize a donation drive. Rick Pelicano, Secretary of the North American Police Equestrian Council, notes that “many units are actually supported by private funds. So those type of units participate in fundraisers. For the ones funded by government, make it known to your lawmakers that you want them supported come budget time.”

Events like this are an opportunity for the community to interact with units. Photo courtesy of the Bethlehem Mounted Police Facebook page.

Many units may also hold special events which help support the cost of the patrols, either on their own or with the help of a “friends” organization. Or they may have a gift shop where merchandise can be purchased. The Bethlehem Mounted Police is a great example. They have coffees for purchase which are named after their horses (Mounted Horse Premium Coffee), as well as an online gift shop (the Clip Clop Shoppe). At Valentine’s Day they sell cards with pictures of the horses on them. They also hold a “Holiday with the Horses” Open House in December. This is an opportunity for the community to visit the stables and meet the horses and officers. In addition, there are vendor booths with merchandise for purchase as well as free gifts for children, caroling, and an opportunity to meet with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Some troops make special appearances at events and can educate the public about what they do. This is a great way for a local unit to get some exposure to a community. Units can demonstrate some of their training, allow community members to ask questions, and even have some one-on-one time where people, especially youth, can pet one of the horses. Pelicano, who is also a retired Captain on the Maryland National Capital Park Police, recommends asking local units to visit schools, community events, and career days. “My old unit was always asked to be at ‘truck days,’ where we could bring a horse and truck and trailer,” he recalled. “If you don’t have a local unit, find the closest one to come to your community event or school.”

If you don’t have a local organization, you can also consider contributing to national campaigns which support patrols around the country. The North American Mounted Unit Commanders Association, established in 2008, was started to develop a national network of mounted unit commanders. Through annual meetings, it brings together units not only from the US and Canada, but also from other countries, to exchange ideas and information on how to help mounted units be successful. This group also is a central location to find training events around the country and shares articles in support of the mounted police. The North American Police Equestrian Council holds annual training events and has a memorial fund to support fallen officers. Another organization is the National Mounted Law Enforcement Foundation. This 501c3 foundation has a two-fold mission, to educate people about the importance of mounted units and to help collect donations and send them where they are most needed. Kathy Leigh Carter started this foundation almost 10 years ago and has become the leading expert on US Mounted Units. In addition to the foundation, she has also started “Justice Reins,” a YouTube channel with video of units from around the country. More on this can be found at the Justice Reins website.



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