Are Police Department Mounted Units anachronisms or still useful?

I’m parking near a NYC Horse Mounted Unit building these days. I see them come, and go. Lemme preface this by saying, I like horses and I like cops. ( Mostly… ). I do, however, detest fiscal waste.

I was trying to think of a single criminal situation where being mounted on a horse is more advantageous than being mounted on either a bicycle, motorcycle, vespa or 4-wheeled vehicle.

I cannot think of one. Chasing a perp through the thick dark underbrush of Central Park? MUCH more dangerous for a cop on horsemount. Rapid pursuit down Broadway? The horse’s hooves are shod with metal shoes. They slip and slide when running and stopping short- I’ve seen a Police Horse slip for a moment and then regain it’s footing.

Looking out over a large crowd? Perhaps, but being in the middle of a huge crowd ( Simon & Garfunkel in Central Park, a busy summer’s day down at the Battery, etc. ) is patently unsafe when you are mounted. Even the best-trained and most even-tempered steed would become skittish if a real mob scene broke out, with people and things being hurled about. The raised up point of view would be balanced out by the danger of trampling the surrounding crowd, being thrown, your horse being injured or spooked by a riot.

I can’t see why NYC or any urban police department spends the money on them these days, when every city is so broke.


We did this a few months ago. :smiley:

And A few months before that.


A regular horse, perhaps, but not a police horse. This is the exact thing they train for their whole lives. I’ve seen crowd control horses do some pretty amazing things in very bad situations.

You do realize that up until last century horses were used in BATTLE?

People are naturally intimidated by horses and angry barking dogs, which is why they make such effective crowd control tools.

Having been on the wrong side of a police cavalry charge in my day, I can say they convey a great deal of persuasive authority.

On a gentler note, police horses are also quite useful for patrolling the scenic terrain of Mount Royal Park, where police cars would be obstrusive.

My dad watched Lincon Rockwell lead protests in Boston against the movie “The Hiding Place”, and he said that when the police horses pranced along the gutters, people moved the heck BACK.

Last century? How about still being used in anti-terrorist actions in Afghanistan.

Like matt_mcl I have been on the receiving end of a police horse charge, and yes it was terrifying.

Also, though it hasn’t been mentioned, people are perversely less likely to deliberately injure a horse than they are a copper. Over here in the UK, they’re invaluable in crowd control situations.

When I was in grade school, I got to see some of the things that the Indianapolis Mounted Patrol trains their horses with. They have to get used to firecrackers and gunshots and flying trash and smoke screens and things. They also have to be accustomed to people coming up and bumping them and actually walking underneath them (like a little kid might do). If they don’t pass, they don’t make it.

How is this more dangerous for a cop on a horse than for a copy on a bike? A horse can step or jump over small obstacles in a way that a motorcycle can’t. A horse can negotiate tight spaces quite well. I’d say a mounted cop is midway between an officer on foot (agile, flexible, capable of overcoming physical barriers) and one on a motorcycle (fast, durable, has headlights) in terms of appropriateness to the situation. Any mounted cop is better suited to the situation than one in a car.

There are a several ways of handling this. Shoes can be augmented to increase traction on pavement. Material (borium) can be permanently welded on, or studs can be screwed in when need is anticipated. There are also a number of non-metal shoes which offer greater traction and shock absorption. Of course, this does not mean that the NYPD uses any of these tools.

This is something a motorcycle cannot do - regain its balance without the rider’s help. If a horse and rider team loses its balance, the horse can recover for them both. This is invaluable if the rider is injured or distracted while dealing with equipment (think radios, firearms, etc.).

Airborne calvary unit? Oh my God, Bush was right! They mixed horses and albatrosses to make chimera peaguses! Death and poop from the skies!

Fascinating. I didn’t Search to see if such an obscure idea for an OP had been covered, no less covered twice recently. My apologies.

Then again, there’s 12 posts so far so I guess we’re still willing to explore the concept.

As far as adding different kinds of attachments or bolts or pads or anti-skid materials to a horse shoe for running down Broadway opposed to, say, trotting through the underbrush in Central Park, I struggle to believe that they would be applied in time to be useful. OTOH, it is worth trying to contact the Unit to see if certain horses are shod permanently ( or at least for set periods of time ) for certain terrain. That would be logical.

I too have been on the receiving end of a skittish horse’s physical presence. I was standing on the track at Churchill Downs, shooting the Post Parade for the Kentucky Derby. One of the horses, instead of keeping in line, started…walking? ( I know zip about equine terminology ) sideways towards me suddenly. I did as I’d been told to do in the meetings- stand stock still. The horse came within 5 or 6 feet of me, then stood, and was slowly turned away by it’s jockey back into a place in the line ( which kept moving as this happened ).

Scared the crap out of me, but I did move back into position as the horse was moving away, and kept shooting and got the remainder of the post parade. I can believe that a horse’s physical presence is used as a source of intimidation and crowd control. It hadn’t occurred to me that this would be a tactic used on purpose.

Why is a scooter safer in the underbrush? Because when mounted and moving at high speed in the near-total darkness, you are much higher and lack a headlight. A thick branch would take ya right out. A motorscooter, Vespa or motorcycle weighs less than a horse, is faster to turn in tight spaces and keeps your head lower to the ground. I dunno - intuitively I am feeling it’s safer to be on a motorized bike of some sort. ( Or a bicycle, which is used throughout the city by NYPD ).

Horseshoes are semi-permanent, that is, once the shoes are applied, they stay on for the duration of a shoeing cycle (4 - 8 weeks). Rubber or plastic horseshoes are nailed (sometimes glued) on just like steel shoes. Working horses, such as police horses, are generally shod year-round.

There are also rubber hoof boots that go over the entire hoof. These can be put on by the rider as needed, but if these were to be used on a police horse they’d probably be put on at the start of the day and left on all day.

Borium is welded to the shoes, so it’s always there. Studs can be removable (screw-in) or permanent. A police horse would probably be shod with shoes with permanent studs, or the removable studs would be installed at the start of the horse’s work day and left in. Toe grabs (an extra ridge of steel projecting downward from the toe of the shoe) or heel caulks (extra steel projecting down from the heels of the shoe) can also be built into the shoe to add traction.

And when you catch up to the criminal, you can lean over, smile and say “Ciao!”

Although I do not have personal aquaintence with the NYPD’s mounted unit, I would find it hard to believe that their entire patrol is not shod year round, with borium or screw-in studs in the winter.

That is minimum care for horses working on paved ground, or in the snow. The chances that they have horses working unshod on pavement or hardpack footpaths are virtually nil. There is danger of concussive trauma, called “Road founder” when a horse is worked inappropriately shod on hard surfaces.

Ah, a little investigation reveals my assumptions as coorect. NYPD horses are shod every 7 weeks with borium-stud shoes by one of their 3 full-time farriers.

Horse vs. motorized bike really depends on the situation. Sure, a horse puts you higher up where low hanging branches are more of concern, but you’re also able to pop over logs or other obstacles that are much trickier on something that can’t pick up its legs or jump. Also, being higher means you have a better view of what’s coming. As long as there’s enough clearance for the horse to get through, you can pretty much just duck under most branches. If clearance is so bad even the horse can’t make it, I don’t know that there’s enough room even for a motorcycle.

Also, horses can turn pretty easily. If you watch a cutting horse work cattle or a reining horse spin, you’ll see how quickly they can maneuver. Also, with a horse you can turn while moving or halted, back up, stand still, and go sideways–all while you have at least one hand free and don’t require you to put a foot down for balance or change gears.

Excellent cite ! My quote that you used, it does occur to me that it could read to mean that I expect horses to be shod year round. That was not my intended meaning. I assumed such. I meant to say, that I wondered if certain horses were shod for certain duties.

Clearly that is wrong, as has been proven. Additional “grip” can be added and removed in various ways. Who knew? :slight_smile:

There are also typically foot and police patrols as well. I seriously doubt you will see a mounted officer charge through Times Square like the Lone Ranger. But he certainly has a good vantage point to call in support.

Also, as Times Square is very congested with both people and cars, a mounted officer has more of a presence and can see a much greater area.

Probably not. Every horse I’ve been on has a turning radius of zero. You have your choice keeping the front end stationary while bringing the back end around or keeping the hind end stationary while pushing the back end. A well-trained horse will do this one step at a time as asked, so it’s pretty easy to get the animal turning over its center of gravity.

Poorly trained, or just plain evil, horses will dish this out without even being asked.