MEDFORD, Ore. – Mounted law enforcement got some tough love Sunday – at a horse de-spooking course.
Search and Rescue and Sheriff’s Mounted Posses from multiple counties showed up to the three-day course to desensitize their horses to just about any frightening distraction imaginable.
It may seem cruel, but trainers say if these horses don’t learn to face their fears now, it could mean disaster later on.
“Horses will do anything they think is necessary to become safe,” said clinician Bill Richey. “That includes running over the top of you, running through a fence, jumping out of a trailer…”
The South Stage Stables transformed into a warzone for the day, with police sirens, gas canisters, fire, and even helicopters.
“You’re teaching your horse that no matter what – no matter what happens – he doesn’t get hurt. And that’s what herd leaders do,” said Richey.
That trust is especially important for an animal in the Sheriff’s Mounted Posse. Fairs, parades, and public events are all part of their day job.
“They’re put through a lot of different situations, different types of noise, stimulations, it’s pretty much an assault,” said Mounted Posse rider Carla Winkler.
They say this is their only chance to put those animals through such an assault in a controlled environment.
“We can’t duplicate a lot of the things that we’ve done at this event,” said Winkler.
But Richey says when all is said and done, the horses won’t have changed a bit. The riders, however, are a different story.
“They’re still horses, they’re still capable of doing all the things that horses for thousands of years could do,” said Richey. “So this is really training the people even more than it’s training the horse.”