Mounted units go through extensive training
The Carson City Mounted Unit isn’t horsing around.
Units from Carson, Elko, Sparks and Washoe police and sheriff’s departments participated in a four-day long training, getting their horses skilled and the riders certified to work.
“This desensitizes the horses and gets them ready for the streets,” said Carson City regional Mounted Unit coordinator Joe Bruno.
Previously, law enforcement agencies used horses when violent situations were common, such as riots and crowd control, said Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong. However, because that’s not commonplace anymore, the Mounted Unit is utilized for crowd control at major events, such as Nevada Day, Hot August Nights, carnivals and Search and Rescue missions.
The training consists of a 60-hour class, with classroom and ride time that teaches horse basics and baton use. This certifies the rider knows how to operate the horse in a crowded setting. This training however doesn’t certify the horse — at the end of the course Bruno assesses and recommends to the county’s department whether the horse is safe to use or not.
“A horse has it’s own mind no matter what you do,” Bruno said. “And they can make a mistake and hurt someone.”
Bruno, along with fellow regional coordinator Sparks Police Department Sgt. Mike McCreary, trains the riders over four days at Fuji Park and Silver Saddle Ranch. The two hold the class for all Northern Nevada Mounted Units because often, the departments are working together on missions and it’s important for the unit to all have the same training and be familiar with each other.
At the end of the training Friday night, the horses were tested on their desensitization. The instructors shot off fireworks and the horses had to stand still during it, to stimulate situations they would find at celebrations or holiday events. After the horses had to complete an obstacle course with gunfire so the instructors could test they can get around a crowd without getting spooked by the loud noises.
“This training is critical from a law enforcement side,” Furlong said. “While we apologize to the citizens out around Silver Saddle Ranch, it (was) important to have those fireworks and gunfire because a spooked horse can cause a lot of damage to people and property.”
The instructors also learn important training like how to use a baton and firearm from the horse, and how to handle their horse properly.
About 30 horses and their owners participated in the training, with 19 coming from the Carson City Sheriff’s Office. Because the Mounted Unit is made up of volunteers, about nine of Carson City’s 39-man unit are non-law enforcement. The rest of the riders are all POST certified, and some, like Furlong and Assistant Sheriff Ken Sandage are trained to ride if need be.
Bruno said the non-law enforcement riders train the same as the law enforcement horses, however during an event, they can’t perform law enforcement duties. These horses can be used for Search and Rescue missions and used as a part of crowd control for events because if something was to happen and Bruno or another officer had to get off the horse they have people who can fill in to help.
“Since they have been through the class, if something were to happen downtown, they can’t do law enforcement stuff but their horse knows what to do,” Bruno said.
Bruno has been teaching the unit training for several years, and he said because of his and McCreary’s work, they have been able to convince more departments, like Reno and UNR PD, in Northern Nevada to reestablish their mounted units.
“The other departments can see the work that we are doing and decided to start bringing back their Mounted Units because it doesn’t cost them anything extra,” Bruno said. “It only helps a department.”
Because all of the riders are volunteers and own their own horses, a department only has to accommodate time away for training for staff, and it doesn’t cost them any extra money.
And often, riders take the class several times because they enjoy it, Bruno said. The riders have to recertify every year, but they only have to participate in 8-10 hours on the firework sensory day to certify, and Bruno said that often people come for the full four days if they can get the time off of work.
“Only about a quarter of my class is new people, but lots of vets like it so much they do the whole class over again,” Bruno said. “The riders love it.”
The class is put on once a year, every April to get ready for the event season and then again in October before Nevada Day. They also get together once a month to ride so everyone is comfortable with each other and on the same page so when they are called out, everyone knows and is following the county rules.
Bruno also offers the class to civilians for $100 to desensitize their horses.