You wouldn’t think a nine foot bobby weighing ¾ tonne, travelling at 5-10 mph would have an advantage over high speed police vehicles would you?
Our officers from the mounted police section would tell you otherwise. They consider it a privilege to ride our 17 hands plus, Bay or Black Geldings as part of their working day.
PC Ted Grabowski has been an officer in the mounted section for 18 years and a total of 32 years in the police force. He tells us about life as an officer on hoof with his horse Lewis.
He recalls a routine beat at St Pauls, Bristol: “A high value Mercedes had been stolen overnight and all city traffic units were out looking for it. We came across the car with two suspects inside at traffic lights. They saw us and they sped off at 60mph. With our extensive local knowledge we were able to take short cuts though side roads and back lanes and although only travelling at 10mph, we managed to recover the vehicle and arrest one man.”
Roles within the mounted section are highly competitive and don’t come around very often. “The role differs greatly to any other job in the force, you are more visible, perceived to be unusual and the public are more likely to engage in conversation with you” said Ted.
“Because we do travel at 5mph people are able to chat with us and tell us about their concerns or an incident that may have just occurred. The horses are a great icebreaker.”
The horses are deployed to areas of need to tackle both rural and urban crime. Their size makes them more visible, able to peer over high walls, and garden fences; all the things an officer on foot or in a vehicle can’t do.
“We immediately make an impression and residents feel reassured, we calm the atmosphere and often deter criminal activity just by being there.
“I was always aiming for the mounted section. I learnt my skills as a PC and it took eight years from my first application to be successful in gaining a place with the horses. It’s highly competitive and not many people move on.
“The first thing I do at the start of my shift is to make sure my horse is fine-tuned like a Ferrari. Our shifts vary and we cover a 24hr clock. We could be covering the night time economy in Bristol City centre on a Friday and Saturday evening, or we could be at a football match.
Football matches and maintaining public order at events are a core part of our work.
“In 2013 there was derby match between Bristol City and Bristol Rovers. This was the first time in six years the fans had met and there were large numbers of known trouble makers in the crowds. Fans stormed the pitch at the end of the match; it took eight of our horses to clear the pitch by moving sideways to disperse the crowd. One horse is the equivalent to ten officers in a crowd situation.”
Traditionally, officers used to do the grooming and muck out the stables, now we employ civilian groomers and stable hands to assist with getting the horses ready. They keep the yard tidy and ride the horses on the officers day off. This means officers are free to focus on policing matters.
It may surprise you to know that not all our officers in the mounted section come from a horsing background. The most important criteria is to be an experienced police officer.
“You need to be a certain type of person to be here but it doesn’t mean non horsey types won’t make it. You can carve out a very good career. The last two officers recruited are not horse enthusiasts” Ted explains.
However, you do need to be physically fit and able to mount the horse from the ground unaided.
New horses come to us on trial for 4-6 weeks. They are exercised in urban areas and other environments they are not normally conditioned to. Our experts assess whether they are suitable to join our ranks. When a horse is selected, they are given their own prestigious force name which means something to the area – we currently have Redland, St George, Quantock and Sedgemoor among others. Lewis is named after Lawrie Lewis, retired Head of Operations.
The learning process continues after the horse joins us. All horses are matched to an officer and it takes time for them to learn to respond to their voice.
There are three categories of horse and rider: standard, intermediate and advanced. Some horses’ manner means that they are categorised as standard throughout their career while others progress naturally to more complex situations. They are trained to help during riots and protests. Their training includes more challenging exercises such as jumping through rings of fire. Advanced horses can withstand more extreme situations, such as potentially stressful and noisy situations like football matches.
We have 13 horses in total and they have one day off a week. They all have their own diary listing their activities, diet and health. Our horses retire in their late teens to early 20s and they tend to go to Horse World for the rest of their life. We often send them there for a holiday too.
But until that time they enjoy life in the force and meeting members of the public.
Ted says: “We often attend football events, areas that may need crowd control. Other times we take part in community engagement at a show or maybe in the city centre. I remember one time in the City; I had just dismounted to have a cuppa. I stood by my horse, paper cup in hand when a lady put a pound in my cup of tea! She thought I was collecting for charity” he laughs.
You can follow our horses on twitter @ASPoliceHorses