Two non-profits are seeking donations for projects to support the Lexington Division of Police's Mounted Unit.
Friends of the Lexington Mounted Police seeks to raise money to provide a new ground surface for the mounted police's indoor training barn at their headquarters at 575 West Sixth Street. And the Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association seeks to buy police badges for all the horses, similar to badges worn by canine officers, to signify that the horses are sworn police animals.
The mounted unit has relied on community support from the day it was formed. Bob Maxwell, former owner of Sallee Horse Vans Inc., recalled that officer Robert Taylor wanted to ride a horse during the Fourth of July parade in 1982. One problem: Taylor didn't have a horse.
That's where Maxwell, the unit's first volunteer, came in.
"I got a call from the then-chief of police, John McFadden," Maxwell said. "He said, 'I had an officer come in here, and he thinks it would be a good thing for the police department to have a mounted police officer lead the parade.'"
When McFadden asked Maxwell where he could find a horse that would be comfortable in a big crowd, Maxwell replied, "Right here in my back yard."
Maxwell had a quarter horse named Buck, a retired 17-year-old racetrack lead horse that was familiar with crowds of 50,000 people or more.
The troop has grown since the days of just Taylor and Buck. The mounted unit has eight full-time officers, a sergeant and nine horses. Pairs of officers regularly patrol downtown and in high-crime areas, and the unit rarely comes home from national competitions without a few first-place trophies.
Without community support, "the mounted unit might exist, but never at the level it has," said Richard Vimont, vice-president of Friends of the Lexington Mounted Police.
Unit relies on donations
Many services and necessities are donated to support the mounted police. Equine podiatrist Ric Redden provides discounted veterinary care. Big Ass Fans, in conjunction with the University of Kentucky, recently donated an industrial fan to help circulate air in the horse barn. And Sallee Horse Vans still transports Lexington police horses all over the country for training and competitions at no charge.
But the unit needs more.
Friends volunteers are constantly taking donations, including hay — the horses combined can eat more than 300 pounds a day — and equipment including saddles, reflective clothing and bridles.
The need to replace the barn's surface came after one horse was injured and two others became sick. The current footing is mulch that has ground down and become slippery and dusty after several years of use, said Ellen Sam, sergeant in charge of the mounted unit.
Two horses recently contracted upper respiratory infections, which can be caused in part by dusty environments. Another horse recently suffered a bone injury after a jumping lesson in the indoor arena. He is still recovering.
"It's a big question mark. Having footing that's not giving the horses proper traction and cushion could potentially be part of the reason that injury occurred," Sam said.
Maxwell said the organization is pricing Polytrack, the same synthetic footing used at Keeneland, and Pinnacle, a low-maintenance synthetic track, to replace the mulch in the 120-by-60-foot barn.
The cost could be between $20,000 and $50,000. To donate money for the footing or to view a list of other items needed by the Lexington mounted police, go to Friendslexingtonmountedpolice.org and click "Donations."
Central Kentucky horse owners also can contribute by signing up for the upcoming Fall Civilian Sensory Clinic, in which civilians can bring their horses to receive training from the mounted police to keep horses from running when they've been spooked.
"The type of sensory training that we do in our clinic is similar to what we do with our own police horses," Sam said.
The badge project
The Lexington Division of Police recently authorized the Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association to provide badges for the horses. Jayne Ford, the non-profit's liaison to the mounted unit, said the small non-profit is trying to raise money to buy them.
The badges cost about $80 each. The unit needs nine, totalling more than $700.
"The horses risk their lives in the crowd just as the two-legged officers do, and we'd like them to look as professional as they can," Ford said.
The badges are the same gold-plated badges that officers wear, but without an identifying badge number, so the badges can be passed on when the horses retire, Ford said.
During the economic recession, several cities with mounted police units have gotten rid of their mounted units or cut staff, Sam said. Statistics aren't necessarily tracked, Sam said, but she has heard that the number of horse-mounted officers might have decreased in the United States by as much as two-thirds over the past several years.
Vimont, of Friends of the Lexington Mounted Police, said, "It's very easy for a government to take a small unit, like motorcycle officers or mounted officers or bicycle officers, and do away with it and save the money."
In part because of support from the non-profits, including fund-raisers and donations, the Lexington mounted police continue to serve.
There was a hint of pride in Maxwell's voice when he spoke about the unit that he helped start. He remembered how the idea of forming a mounted unit took off after Officer Taylor rode Buck in the parade.
"We said, 'Of all places in the world that would be appropriate, it's Lexington,'" he said.