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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Hernando sheriff's Civilian Mounted Unit ready for action


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BROOKSVILLE - Horses with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office mounted unit are trained to search the woods for missing people, control crowds, deter parking lot crime and march in formation.

But before they do, they have to tackle the scary stuff - the Easter bunny, squeaky mailboxes and shopping carts and those pesky inflatable tube people that billow through the air, advertising grand openings.

Sgt. Kathleen Reid, who supervises the mounted patrol unit, said the horses on the unit need to become desensitized to anything they don't normally see on the ranch.

A big part of training is "synchronized spooking," Reid said, and introducing horses to foreign sounds, such as fire crackers or gun shots, and strange objects, like metal grates and the threshold where pavement meets grass.

"Different day, different horse. That's why we continue to train," Reid said.

The sheriff's office Mounted Unit and Civilian Mounted Unit train together, working on search and rescue, desensitization and other drills. Three sworn law enforcement officers are on the Mounted Unit, and 13 volunteers are on the Civilian Mounted Unit. Reid said the units also have five ground personnel, who assist and help with organization and clean up.

In 2013, the volunteers racked up a total of 1,081 training hours and 440 detail hours on their own, Reid said.

And even though it's been a few years since the unit has been called out to do a search and rescue, the unit is prepared and ready to go when the call comes.

"We probably have eight riders who could be ready in two hours anywhere in the county to do a search and rescue," Reid said. "People are willing to say 'OK' and go."

The Civilian Mounted Patrol involves a lot more than owning a horse and showing up to march in parades. Riders and their horses must have 40 hours of training completed and qualify before joining the unit.

"These people are donating so much that it's almost ridiculous," Reid said. "I'm asking people to put in a minimum of 40 hours of work before they ever volunteer to do anything."

Other than t-shirts and minimal gear, the volunteers are responsible for their own horses, transportation, vet bills and training.

"If you don't continue training, you can't ride for us," Reid said. "The people that dedicate to that process really want to serve the public."

At Saturday's training, Mike Pedone, a retired law enforcement officer from the New York City Police Department, works with his young horse, Chase, on a crowd control exercise.

Pedone leads Chase up to the "Flintstones mobile," a contraption of rolling barrels that teaches the horses how to push crowds back.

Chase isn't interested in pushing anything.

"He doesn't understand what you're asking him to do," Reid said. The sergeant encourages other riders and horses to gather around Chase and show him how it's done.

Reid said she usually pairs veteran teams with less experiences pairs as a training tool.

The other horses help Chase get the confidence to push the barrels. "Make a fuss over him!" Reid tells Pedone. "Do something that he likes to do."

The volunteer riders come from diverse background, from retired law enforcement, attorneys and financial officers.

Cathy Ulm, who has been volunteering since 2008, said she didn't own her own horse until she was 50. Ulm started putting in more hours with her horse, Spirit, when she retired, and said she spends her time with the civilian unit for the "camaraderie" and "passion" that comes along with it.

"It's a lot of fun, and satisfaction," Ulm said.

As for Reid, who works as an internal investigator for the sheriff's office, the mounted units are a way for her to give the public a positive interaction with law enforcement.

"People feel safe and kids love seeing them," she said. "You hear life stories sitting on the back of a horse."

The sheriff's office is looking for volunteers for the Civilian Mounted Unit. For more information, contact or call (352) 754-6830.

(352) 544-5283

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