Mounted patrol may be defined and described as follows (Carfield 1995, 371):

Horse-mounted police are special units within police departments or public safety organizations that use horses either for patrol activities or for special operations. Sometimes the horse is used primarily for transportation to facilitate and inspire personal interaction among officers and citizenry. During special operations, the height and bulk of the horse enhance the mounted officer’s command presence and authority.


Although many departments now rely on vehicles (including cars, motorcycles, and bicycles) to patrol areas, some still use horse-mounted units to patrol certain areas or for special occasions. Police mounted units may also be used for special operations to supplement traditional patrol units, especially when dealing with crowd control. Horse-mounted units, traditionally based upon military discipline and command models, are special units that have a special history and unique position within policing.

Several departments within the United States either use horse-mounted patrols to supplement automobile, motorcycle, bicycle, or foot patrol for certain events or certain patrol activities or rely on them as regular patrol details during shifts. Paradoxically, mounted police units still thrive in urban and densely populated areas (Roth 1998, 707). Some departments that still either utilize horse-mounted patrol or have regular horse-mounted patrols are the New York Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Pennsylvania State Police, Philadelphia Police Department, and the New Orleans Police Department. In addition, several departments outside the United States still rely on horse-mounted patrols as specialized units within departments.


According to Roth (1998, 707), ”While it is unknown when the first horse was used in police action, most historians trace the utilization of mounted forces in peacekeeping activities to King Charles’ Articles of War, published in 1629.” London’s Horse Patrol, created in 1805, was the earliest formal mounted police force, and by the 1820s both Australia and Texas had implemented horse-mounted patrol units.

The London Bow Street police established a mounted patrol unit in 1758, and by 1805, the horse patrols ”consisted of fifty-two men and animals and were charged with patrolling main roads up to twenty miles distant of London” (Campbell 1968; also Roth 1998, 708). This unit mainly handled the threat of highwaymen on the roads leading into London and patrolled the main roads to prevent these threats. Originally, the London Bow Street Horse Patrol did not deal with crowds or riots as later horse-mounted patrols did and still do (Roth 1998). The numbers of the Bow Street Horse Patrol were increased in the 1820s because they had proved to be a success, and by the beginning of the 1840s they were an integral part of the London Metropolitan Police (Roth 1998).

The role of the mounted police changed more to crowd control during the nineteenth century due to an increase in social disorder and rioting (Roth 1998). Instead of just patrolling the roads leading into London to discourage highwaymen, the duties of the mounted police by 1910 included patrolling common lands, controlling strike-breaking violence and other horsemen, escorting members of the monarchy, and searching for lost children and escaped criminals. ”In 1919 the mounted branch of the metropolitan branch was reorganized into a model resembling today’s branch” (Roth 1998, 708). In addition to London, other towns and cities within England adopted this type of unit to supplement police patrols. Newcastle-upon-Tyne adopted a mounted patrol in 1836 and still uses a force of six mounted officers to patrol the woodlands and parks that surround the city (Roth 1998). Eighteen U.K. police forces had mounted patrol branches by the end of 1982.

Police departments in the United Kingdom were not the only ones to implement mounted patrols during this time. Police departments in Australia also created mounted patrol units in the 1800s. Mounted patrols were responsible for most law enforcement in the gold fields during the 1850 gold rush and for controlling rioting in Sydney and finding runaway convicts as well during this time. To the present day, mounted patrols have been maintained within Australia. ”The New South Wales mounted force today assists the police on special operations such as traffic control at major celebrations and sporting events; searches for missing persons in wilderness areas; searches for escapees, drug plantations and retrieving stolen livestock” (Roth 1998, 709).

Horse-mounted patrols within the United States are often equated with the history of the Texas Rangers in the late 1800s. During the nineteenth century, the rangers had an on-and-off existence but were formally organized in 1835, forming an auxiliary military body to patrol the frontiers between the Colorado and Trinity rivers (Roth 1998). The other main responsibility of the rangers was to protect the Texas frontier from Indian attacks during this time. Following the Civil War, their duties shifted from border patrol to straight police work against outlaws.

Following the example of the Texas Rangers, other states, such as Arizona and New Mexico, also implemented horse patrols around the 1900s to improve law enforcement. The main mission of these units was to reduce predations by outlaws. Although many mounted patrols were reduced or disbanded by the introduction and proliferation of automobile and highway patrols, many departments within the United States and the world still have departments with horse patrols that are still used today, yet ”there are no accurate statistics on the number of mounted forces in the world today. According to one source there were between seventy and eighty-two units in the USA alone in the early 1980s” (Carfield 1982; also Roth 1998, 718).

Advantages and Justifications of Horse Patrols

Often cited as the reasons for mounted patrols are riot and crowd control, visibility, community relations, and park patrol. Also, horse patrols are often used in parades, funerals, special operations, and traffic. The advantages of patrolling on horseback include having a clearer view of an area, greater public visibility, and the ability to operate in close places. However, there are disadvantages as well, which include exposure to inclement weather, limited carrying capacity, ”litter” (that is, waste), vulnerability, and lack of speed over long distances (Carfield 1995; Doeren 1989; Roth 1998). ”Nevertheless, mounted patrols persist for reasons which clearly exceed mere sentimentality. Many communities are willing to maintain mounted units, despite their limitations, in order to realize perceived benefits” (Roth 1998, 718).

Horse Selection

The physical attributes that are of primary significance in selecting a horse for law enforcement work are gender, weight, age, height, and breed. The majority of mounted patrol units rely on geldings (altered male horses), though some do use mares and/or stallions. Geldings are often preferred to mares or stallions because they tend to possess an overall quieter disposition and are usually safer and easier to handle (Doeren 1989, 10-11).

Often the preference is for larger horses, around 15.2 hands tall or taller and between a thousand and twelve hundred pounds. Departments choose larger horses for several reasons: They are better suited for carrying heavier officers, they provide greater visibility, and they are often more effective in crowd control situations (Doeren 1989). Most departments also prefer to select young or ”green broke” (minimally trained) horses, between three and seven years old. While some training has already begun, such a horse is still susceptible to training and will be able to work for a maximum number of years. In addition, most programs utilize quarter horses, thoroughbreds, Morgans, or mixed-breed horses that are like the quarter horses or Morgans (Doeren 1989). Horses that have a good disposition (quiet, even tempered, and devoid of bad habits) are also preferred for police work.

Horses are acquired by departments in five different ways: (1) purchase, (2) donation, (3) loan, (4) trade, and (5) officer owned (compensation), though most programs rely on purchase and/or donation. ”Most training of horse and rider is carried on by the local department, but there are prominent training centers that will lend a hand in Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, and under the auspices of the National Park Service” (Carfield 1995, 372). Specialized training is required for both horse and rider.

Although not as prominent as before the introduction and proliferation of the automobile, horse-mounted units are still used by police departments today. Essential functions of horse-mounted patrols still include crowd control, presence at special events, patrolling highly congested areas, and public relations. Even though horse-mounted patrols are sometimes difficult to implement and maintain by departments, most that use these special patrols believe the advantages of having them outweigh the few disadvantages.

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