Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Police horses keep the peace after UK wins.

According to TheHorse.com, Lexington, KY’s mounted police have been working hard to maintain order during the past few nights as the UK Wildcats made their bid for the 2012 NCAA Championship in basketball. The Wildcats (my Kentucky family’s most beloved college basketball team) won during Saturday’s Final Four matchup with Louisville, and then went on to clinch last night’s 2012 NCAA Championship. Disappointingly, on Saturday night some Lexington fans expressed their excitement by inciting near riot conditions -- burning furniture, overturning cars, and throwing projectiles for several hours following the game.

Enter the Lexington mounted police, a force comprised of several steady TB/Percheron crosses and their human partners, who work to manage and disperse just such unruly groups. They must deal with all manner of crowd misbehaviors, including the throwing of projectiles. According to Lexington Mounted Police Officer Lisa Rakes, all the animals used for crowd control this past weekend were hit by objects ranging from bottles, to rocks, to cans of beer, but carried on and helped keep the situation under control.

What was interesting to me was not that these animals were able to hold their own while drunk college students flagrantly endangered their safety. It’s that the police people involved recognize that even though these animals are specially trained for such high stress work, the force must still "do additional desensitizing, reassuring, and ground work with the horses after all is said and done.” As Officer Rakes points out in the article, "'We have to remind [the horses] that every time someone raises a hand to throw something, it's not necessarily going to be thrown at them.'"

I find this compelling because many of us who own horses might take for granted that the training we put into our mounts eventually “sticks” and is internalized into their psychology. It is important to remember that horses always maintain the powerful instincts that govern their flight and fear responses, and even the best training can be undone if they encounter threatening or traumatic experiences. For police horses, such experiences are unfortunately just a part of working life. I think the Lexington mounted force deserves kudos, therefore, for remaining sensitive to the psychological impacts that even their most unflappable mounts incur while keeping peace in the horse capitol of the world.