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Law enforcement on horseback

Tony Holt Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:17 PM

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They make appearances during parades.

They canvass neighborhoods.

They search for missing people.

They watch over crowded parking lots to deter shoplifters or muggers.

Members of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office Mounted Patrol Unit and the Civilian Mounted Unit are called upon for various assignments — all of which are best suited for those on horseback.

They can reach places where cars, SUVs and even all-terrain vehicles can't access. It's another tool the sheriff's office uses to ensure deputies can go anywhere when needed.

A couple years ago, when a man wandered from the trails through the Weeki Wachee Preserve, the mounted unit responded and found him.

Every Christmas shopping season, riders on horseback are visible, even near large shopping centers along U.S. 19. Their presence gives shoppers piece of mind and scares away potential criminals looking to make a quick score.

"One of our roles is to augment our patrol unit," said Sgt. Kathleen Reid, who supervises Mounted Patrol and has been a part of it since its inception eight years ago. "If you can saturate an area and people can see that an area is heavily covered by law enforcement, people are less likely to commit crimes."

There were three sworn deputies who took part when the unit was formed in 2004. Two have retired from the sheriff's office, but two younger deputies have taken their place.

The unit gets support from the Civilian Mounted Unit, which is comprised of more than a dozen horseback riders and a few others who work at the ground level.

The ground-level volunteers handle manure disposal and help establish a safe environment for the horses, said Reid.

The civilians take part in parades and assist in search parties. Only the sworn deputies have arrest authority.

All deputies and civilians who take part must have their own horses, equine equipment and the means to transport their horses.

"We can pretty much go anywhere as long as we can access it by trailer," said Reid.

The patrol units have snaked through Sherman Hills, Hill n' Dale, Trillium and other subdivisions, in addition to rural and retail areas.

Not only do the riders have to be skilled and equipped for the job, but the horses themselves must also have the right temperament.

"Not all horses can acclimate to this type of work," said Reid. "Some horses make for great trail horses. Some can't handle cars, parking lots or lots of people. Some don't like closed quarters."

The sheriff's office spends very little on the Mounted Patrol Unit, she said. They pay for liability policies and overpads with the agency's logo for the horses to wear. Otherwise, the riders themselves handle the associated expenses — including veterinary bills, saddles, transportation and other costs.

The horses used by the deputy and civilian riders are geldings or mares. Stallions are not permitted.

Reid said the units are regularly invited at major public events — including the High Point Community 4th of July Parade, the Christmas Parade in downtown Brooksville, the Blueberry Festival and the Pet Expo at Tom Varn Park.

During neighborhood patrols, the deputy and civilian units can ride for miles — sometimes they barely make it a half mile.

Reid said horseback riders draw a lot of attention, especially when people aren't used to seeing them.

The reaction is always positive.

"We get a lot of attention from kids," she said. "You'll see them follow us around on bikes. Sometimes even the adults will come out of the house. They'll call their neighbors and tell them to come outside." (352) 544-5283

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