Mounted police polish riding skills at Kentucky Horse Park

jwarren@herald-leader.comOctober 23, 2013 

While most Lexingtonians were trying to keep warm Wednesday, officers from more than 20 police agencies were on horseback, polishing their riding skills at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Some officers braved the chill riding into remote areas of the park to practice search and rescue techniques.

Others took their mounts through exercises that included people with noisemakers mimicking civil unrest incidents. Still others took their horses over jumps.

It's all part of the 2013 National Mounted Police Colloquium, a training program jointly run by the Lexington Division of Police Mounted Unit and the Horse Park Mounted Police.

More than 80 mounted officers representing 22 police units from the U.S. and Canada are participating in the event's seminars and competitions, all designed to help prepare horses and riders for all kind of situations, from routine crowd control to finding lost children.

"We try to bring in the best trainers in the police horse world so that people can learn from them," said Officer David Johnson, a 13-year veteran of the Lexington Mounted Unit.

"We put pressure on the horses and riders ... and allow the riders to understand that pressure and learn how to get their horses through it."

Johnson pointed out a horse and rider doing an exercise in which they had to pass through a yellow curtain made from strips of police tape. It was to designed to help horses deal with unusual sights and sensations. Some animals didn't want to do it at first.

"You can't force the horse; he has to figure out that this isn't going to hurt him," Johnson explained. "Maybe the next time he will go through."

This is the 29th year for the Lexington colloquium, one of the oldest such training programs in the country.

Capt. Lisa Rakes, a former member of the Lexington police riding unit who now rides for the Horse Park police, said the training benefits horses and riders.

"You have some horses and riders here that are very inexperienced, and you have some old hands who have been coming for years," she said. "Here, they get simulated crowds, simulated obstacles, representing things they might encounter on patrol."

One of the instructors is Roy Foster, a member of the Horse Park's mounted unit.

"You have to realize that these horses are police officers too, they're not just for show," Foster said. "A fully trained officer and mount are the equivalent of 10 officers on foot."

Foster began his career with the Flint, Mich., police department. When Flint formed an equine unit in 1993, he joined.

"I was a motorcycle cop. I'd never ridden a horse in my life," he said. "Now, I just love it."

Training for police wraps up Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, the Horse Park will stage a "mini colloquium" with similar training for civilian riders, Rakes said. Almost 60 people have signed up.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255 Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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