HOUSTON – Researchers say for thousands of years, humans have ridden horses. Taming them has had an impact on everything from agriculture to transport -- even law enforcement.
Sgt. George Schaudel has served with the Houston Police Department for 25 years. His latest assignment puts him with Cadillac, an eight-year-old Tennessee Walker.
Before joining the mounted patrol, Schaudel helped rein in protests as a member of the riot squad.
"A lot of times if it gets dicey, that's when we call in the heavy cavalry here, and after watching mounted perform enough, I figured you know I'd rather be on a horse than on foot handling that," he told CBN News.
Ready to Serve
While it's often a relaxed pace in downtown Houston, that doesn't mean this team isn't prepared.
"If something bad happens, like when I have somebody run from me or something, it's like she goes into auto pilot," Schaudel said about Cadillac. "And that's what a good partner will do, where I don't have to worry about her. She's like, 'I've got it, let's take care of this.'"
Cadillac is one of more than 30 members of Houston's mounted patrol -- the country's second largest, behind New York City.
Sgt. Leslie Wills oversees the unit.
"We're a 24-hour facility here, so we always have people here taking care of the horses and getting them ready to go out on patrol," Wills told CBN News.
She says altogether, it can take anywhere from 90 days to about two years to get animals ready to head out and patrol in downtown Houston.
"Mounted patrol as opposed to, let's say bike patrol, or even in a car, we are able to get into areas that others aren't, wooded areas, even with people on ATVs, things like that," Wills explained. "You're just not able to get into areas like that without a mounted patrol."
Officer Meredith Villarreal trains officers and animals to be effective partners.
"You want to build their confidence first because we're not going to be able to be successful with them downtown unless they have the confidence and the trust in us as humans and partners -- that we're not going to put them in situations that they feel is dangerous or harmful to (th)em," she told CBN News.
Villarreal took six-year-old Admiral through an obstacle course to show us some of the elements of the training. In addition to exercises in coordination and maneuverability, horses and mules are exposed to sights and sounds that would spook an untrained animal.
Wills cracked a whip near Malo the mule, and he stood his ground.
Humans Need Training, Too
But it's not all about the animals.
"We get a lot of officers that come in that maybe don't have any experience, and so they go through an eight-week course, and they're taught the fundamentals of horsemanship, and then also the basics of riding, which we later progress to more advanced riding," Villarreal explained.
The officers also learn to speak through body language.
"What we use we like to say is love, language and leadership in equal doses," shared Wills.
She says officers don't use force, fear or intimidation to get results. Their methods appear to be paying off. Villarreal told CBN News that with the proper training, horses definitely make good police officers.
The Three C's
Patrolling the streets of Houston is a busy job. Wills says that last year alone the mounted patrol was involved in more than 10,000 arrest activities.
"We look for bad guys doing bad things or try to help people that need help," Schaudel said.
The goals of the unit involve the three C's: crime, crowds and community.
Whether it's on the streets or at the stables, the presence of a horse seems to put people at ease.
"It's invaluable to have the interaction with the community in such a positive aspect where kids or even adults -- they see us, and they don't really see police officers," Villarreal said.
Donated and Sponsored
And if you're wondering about the cost of maintaining a successful mounted patrol -- in Houston's case, every horse is donated and sponsored. In one heartwarming example, five special needs girls came together to sponsor a special needs horse named Smash, who is deaf.
"He can't hear so the only way I get to know him is by touch, and then he responds to me," Katherine Richards, a sponsor of Smash, told CBN News.
Greater trust between animal and human means greater success in downtown Houston.
Schaudel takes his job very seriously -- not taking lightly routine encounters.
"I had somebody earlier today that was listed as a missing person, a homeless person," he shared. "I've also had a fellow come back calm as can be, nice as can be. He was laying on the sidewalk; he ended up having a murder warrant out of Galveston."
Schaudel says he believes everything happens for a reason.
"I'm just doing the Lord's work as I go along," he said.
It's just one example of a type of policing rooted in history that still meets needs today.