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Clippity clop, here come the cops

13 Sep 2011

Clippity clop, here come the cops Image

By Yasemin Pelevan

After finishing an intense training program Trigger will be receiving his police badge. But he is not your everyday police officer. Trigger is a police horse.

Hidden in the centre of Southbank is the Victoria Police Mounted Branch. Mounted police patrol our streets and support operational policing and public order management.

Sen-Constable Matthew Astill from the Mounted Branch describes it as Southbank’s hidden jewel.

The “majestic” building is a stable for on-duty police horses. The building will celebrate its 100th birthday next year.

Horses were a primary transport for police officers up until the transition to motorised transport in the early 20th century.  But Sen-Constable Astill says horses are still important.

“We are still as relevant now as we were 100 years ago,” Sen-Constable Astill said.

Mounted police officers are present across Victoria, especially in busy areas like Southbank and the CBD.

“Southbank is a highly-valued reference point for Melburnians and tourists,” Sen-Constable Astill said.  “Our patrols start out at Southbank and we have patrols through Southbank.”

Mounted officers and police horses are an effective tool in the police force.

“We have an extreme advantage being up that high,” he said. “Which is fantastic for curbing anti-social violent behaviour, particularly on weekends.”

“Another advantage is accessibility. Horses go places that cars don’t. And we can travel a lot more kilometres on a horses back than we can on foot,” he said.

Horses are an exceptional animal. So exceptional, in fact, that they are trained to battle crime in the frontline alongside Victoria’s toughest police officers.

Sen-Constable Astill says police horses in particular have special traits that separate them from other horses.

“Police horses are unique horses, they have a good nature.  It is important that the police horses have the right temperament, ability and height and are bold enough to be able to perform all of our duties,” he said.

Horses are naturally hesitant and fearful animals. At any sign of threat they are known to flee the scene. Loud noises and lots of people often trigger their fear. But police horses are trained to work in urban areas. The horses and riders undergo intense training, to prepare them to deal with violent and often dangerous scenarios.

The horses at the Mounted Branch range from ex-race horses to specially-bred police horses.

“The horses are raised on farms and then work in urban environments with trams, constructions, over-head bridges, demonstrations with people in their faces and flares. All these things really distract horses,” Sen-Constable Astill said.

The horses are slowly introduced to the city environment.

“We bring them out to get used to the city environment and expose them to all the normal activities,” Sen-Constable Astill said.

The horses also undergo a nuisance training which gets them used to loud noises.

“We test the horses through a variety of conditions to assess their ability to perform the core duties,” he said.

Leading Sen-Constable Jan Saunders is a horse trainer and experienced rider at the Mounted Branch. She works closely with the horses and the riders. She carefully pairs each horse with a mounted officer.

“Horses are like humans, they have individual personalities,” Leading Sen-Constable Saunders said. “For example a flighty horse needs a soothing rider.”

Apart from their abilities, the personality of a horse is also very important.

“They need to be inquisitive, friendly and trainable, not necessarily a quiet horse,” Leading Sen-Constable Saunders said.

“Police horses need to want to do things that are perhaps not natural to them. They need to be curious about the world,” she said.

It takes up to two years for a police horse to pick up all the core police duties.

“We don’t ever push the horse too fast too soon,” Leading Sen-Constable Saunders said.

Every horse is screened and trialled but only a few make it through the training process.

After successfully completing the training, the horses are awarded police badges. The badges are worn on their breast plates, making them official members of the police force.

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  • memmyt at 3:34pm on 16/09/11

    What an interesting article. I love horses. Glad to see them doing interesting things.

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