Madison is unique in many ways: its isthmus, its Badger fans, and its pride in supporting local businesses, just to name a few. Add to this list the Madison Mounted Horse Patrol. Many might not know Madison has one, but since 2008, five dutiful steeds have been supported through the nonprofit Friends of Madison Mounted Horse Patrol.
The Madison Mounted Horse Patrol was informally started in 1986 when six Madison police officers asked their chief if they could ride their personal horses while in uniform for the November Annual Holiday Parade. The team was such a hit that, in 1987, those same six officers formed a working team to train for on-duty police work with their private horses.
Due to insufficient staffing resources to justify a unit, the team was disbanded in 1993. However, Madison’s annual State Street Halloween celebration showed how effective horses are when 100,000 people gather in one urban area. After riots a few years prior, the 2006 Halloween event was trouble free, in part because 12 mounted patrol officers were on the street. In 2007, the unit was resurrected.
“To build a program, you had to own everything on your own first,” Officer Sarah McLaughin says. “As we began gaining momentum as a nonprofit, we started to grow the unit and city-owned horses. It’s a great direction for the department to go.”
Sarah joined the Madison Police Department in 2001 and has been with the Mounted Horse Patrol since 2007. Currently the unit coordinator and trainer, Sarah never imagined being involved with horses in this capacity. The northern Wisconsin native entered police work after working for a humane society in Minnesota, drawn to the canine-officer relationship. “I did a ride-along with a canine officer and thought, ‘wow,’” Sarah says. “I knew I wanted to work with animals, but I didn’t know how. I certainly never thought it would be police work.”
Ken Mulry has been a Madison police officer for 19 years and a Mounted Patrol officer for 6. The University of Wisconsin–Madison alum previously worked 17 years in construction. “I wanted to affect more people’s lives,” he says. “I felt I had more to offer.”
Even after riding for five consecutive days makes his body sore, or when it’s 90 degrees and he sees others drinking cold Spotted Cow and eating steak on State Street, Ken says he still has the greatest job in the world. “It’s police work—a respected job. It’s the interaction with people that make it positive. We are always exposed to conflict, but when we walk the horses into a situation, it brings smiles to people’s faces.”
The Madison Mounted Horse Patrol horses have been kept at Horse First Farm, a 60-acre property in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, since 2009. The farm is home to 80 horses. Patrol officers work a six-day week April 1 through November 30. If days of work fall between a Sunday and a Thursday, the patrol works in Madison neighborhoods, malls, bike paths, and parks. “We’ve heard so many times people wish they knew we were coming,” Ken says. “That’s what spawned our Community Corral idea. If people follow us on Facebook, they can see where we will be at a certain day and time.”
On weekends, patrol officers work 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m., maintaining a presence near State Street. “It’s the bar crowd,” Ken says. “It’s more dispersal, disrupting any fighting or large disturbances.”
Because of their height, officers can see halfway down State Street on horses, which Ken says is an advantage. “You can see and you can be seen. I have my own stage. You can direct large numbers of people by just providing information.”
Sarah agrees, approachability and visibility are keys. She says the horse not only helps diminish anger and hostility, it also can help calm a situation. “If 20 people are fighting in the street, I can trot up with a smile on my face, my whistle in my mouth, and start pointing, and people are already leaving. We will take any call. We are just like a police officer in a squad car, we are just slower moving and fuzzy.”
Meet the Horses
Madison Mounted Horse Patrol horses include: Bubba, 13, a 1,900-pound Clydesdale-Percheron cross with five years of service; Luna, 10, a 1,700-pound Percheron mare with five years of service; Scarlett, 10, a 1,600-pound Friesian-Percheron cross with four years of service; Torres, 9, a 1,400-pound Friesian with two years of service; and Dr. B, or Doc, 5, a 1,400-pound shire with one year of service.
Friends of Madison Mounted Horse Patrol and sponsors of Mounted Horse Patrol horses fund the board and pay vet bills. Three of the horses currently are sponsored for $5,000 each per year. The patrol officers are supported through city tax dollars. With the completion of the Mounted Patrol Academy earlier this year, two part-time officers were added to the roster, bringing the units strength to six riders. The unit hopes to add a sixth horse soon.
Currently, the unit has one truck and a four-horse trailer. Fundraising efforts are underway to add a second truck and trailer to allow more flexibility to attend special events on weekends and provide more neighborhood patrols.
Patrol horses are trained by the officers through Natural Horsemanship training, which Ken describes as a way of training that maintains respect for the animal. “We don’t treat the animals as tools, we treat them as partners,” he says. “We try to develop their confidence.” After two years of service, the police horses are given their badge. On May 1, there will be an open house and badge ceremony for Torres.
To show support for the Mounted Horse Patrol, Sarah encourages the community to visit madisonmounted.org , email email@example.com , or like the unit on Facebook at facebook.com/madisonmounted .
Chelsey Dequaine is an assistant editor for a Madison-based newspaper and a freelance writer.