The horses and riders of the Sherburne County Mounted Patrol appear at many events such as parades each year, but not many may know how those horses and riders come to be uniformed representatives of a local sheriff’s department.
The Union-Times recently visited with five members – 10 counting the horses – of the mounted patrol to learn more about its special role in county law enforcement.
Ann Brage and Ice, a cool-gray blue-roan quarter horse, have 12 years’ experience with the patrol. Patty Braden and Juba, an Arabian, have been on the force seven years.
Wendy Doric and Asheron, a sizable Friesian, have rendered two years’ service. Mariah Brage and Willow, a four-stockinged Missouri fox trotter, have been with the mounted team five years.
Jody Griner and her Peruvian paso, Merango, have been involved with the mounted patrol since 2005. The five women and their mounts assemble on a Saturday as a fractional representation of the Sherburne County Mounted Patrol, which includes a total of 23 volunteer officers, 22 of whom ride horses.
Patrol begins, grows
None of the mounted patrol members are sheriff’s deputies, as some people might presume. While each undergoes a background check and special training, they’re all volunteers.
The group said the Sherburne County Mounted Patrol began in about 2001 and continues, both with the support of Sheriff Joel Brott. There is at least one person who’s been on the mounted patrol team since its founding. Each person wears a sheriff’s department jacket, hat and badge; each horse wears a sheriff’s department breastplate, saddle blanket and reflective leg wraps.
The riders said they provide the saddle and other tack, which should be black or brown. The officers said it’s often misunderstood by the public that while a few of the uniform items are “standard issue” from the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office, the mounted patrol is not supported by tax dollars.
Each person volunteers their time, animal and equipment such as trailers to participate in things like parades, festivals, the county fair and other events such as National Night Out. The humans and animals of the mounted patrol pay and work their own way to certification and training. One member of the patrol does not have a horse but lends the team support other ways.
Some of the riders have heard snarky comments from the public about “tax dollars at work,” when that’s not the case. The mounted patrol is considered part of the reserve unit of the sheriff’s department.
Training covers many aspects
The riders work with their own mounts on an individual basis almost constantly and meet at least monthly as a group for training. They sometimes meet at an arena in Becker or on someone’s property to put their mounts through the paces and socialize them in every possible way.
Asked to describe some of the training, the mounted patrol members said it includes a lot of desensitization exercises in various forms. For example, the horses carry their riders in a busy environment, such as there might be during a parade or a busy county fair.
Trainers will introduce strollers, overhead balloon arrangements, bouncing balls, and high-energy activities within the environment. The riders said the horses are also conditioned for noises such as fireworks, sirens, gun shots and loud public announcement systems.
While the riders agreed they and the horses mostly serve as public-relations ambassadors of the department, they train beyond basic standards in the mechanical disciplines plus prepare for official functions, too.
Braden said, “We do search-and-rescue training.”
The volunteers explained that horses can often access places that machines or even humans on foot cannot. In addition, the horses are trained for the experience of pulling objects from hard-to-access areas.
Doric said other exercises good for conditioning as a team include cow management, obstacle courses and even trail rides. Each year, the rider and horse go through a recertification program and a simulated search-and-rescue operation.
Horses, helping at heart of efforts
Asked what they like best about being a part of the mounted patrol, the mounted officers on hand that day shared their perspective.
Doric said, “Any time I get to spend on my horse, doing something with horses,” is what motivates her.
Griner said she enjoys the smiles the horses bring and she likes helping the community, which is made even better because it’s in conjunction with the horses. Children love to see and interact with the animals.
Mariah Brage said for her it’s to “do something I love with horses and being a help to the community.”
Braden said the best part of it is being out in the community doing something she loves. She likes to see the smiles the horses bring to the faces of young and old. She said it’s also easy to tell who in the crowd is a veteran because as the mounted patrol clip-clops along with the American flag leading its way, the vets stand and salute.
The equestrians commented on how the fulfillment of time with their animals doing something constructive makes everything – all the training, certification, vet bills, farrier care, grooming and other efforts that come along with the commitment – worth it. Whether patrolling a county park at their leisure or participating in a focused-search effort, members of the Sherburne County Mounted Patrol enjoy a unique camaraderie while providing a distinctive service.