If you’ve ever been to the UK, it won’t come as a surprise to you if you saw police horses roaming the streets – and we don’t mean in the ‘wild’ sense. The curiosity around these four-legged policing companions is quite often a topic of discussion.
But wonder no more! In this article, we prance through the policing (horse) world and uncover the breeds that grace the ranks (and streets) of law enforcement in the UK. From their impressive strength, desired traits, unwavering loyalty, and training sessions; these horses are more than “a one-trick kind of pony” and you’ll want to know why!
So, tack up, as we gallop through the roles these magnificent horse breeds play and boost your knowledge on the types of equestrian sidekicks that the police use.
7 Horse Breeds That The Police Use
Police horses in the UK are typically crossbreeds, combining the qualities of Thoroughbreds and sturdy Draught horses.
Here’s our list of 7 commonly used breeds:
- Average height: 16 – 18 hands
- Foundation breed: Flemish, Native Lanarkshire Mares
Being the tallest on our list, we’ll begin with the Clydesdale breed. While they may not be as commonly used as other breeds on our list, they are used for law enforcement. These impressive draught horses, which are native to Scotland, are known for their exceptional size and strength; great for heavy work such as pulling carriages.
We have provided several Clydesdles to Police Horse Scotland, and the feedback we get is excellent. Their calm temprament gets them out on the beat much younger and more quickly than other, more hot blooded breeds.
With their long feathering (the long hair around their ankles) and gentle nature, Clydesdales are an excellent fit for a mounted police officer; adding a touch of grand elegance to it, if you ask me.
- Average height: 16 – 17 hands
- Foundation breed: Barbs, Flemish draft
The Percheron, a cold-blooded French horse breed, is known for its power and strength. These majestic horses have large builds and impressive stature, making them top choices for mounted police.
With their calm temperament, Percherons have a reliable presence in high-pressure situations, ensuring the safety and security of officers and the public. Their commanding presence and remarkable work ethic make them highly valued in law enforcement.
3. Irish Draught (or Irish Draft)
- Average height: 15.2 – 16.3 hands
- Foundation breed: Irish Hobby, Anglo-Norman, Clydesdale
Although slightly smaller in size when compared to Percherons, the Irish Draught is renowned for its strength, resilience and unflappable temperament.
These steady and dependable steeds have a calm demeanour to handle large crowds, navigate rough terrains, and maintain law and order.
4. Belgian Draught (or Belgian Draft)
- Average height: 16.2 – 17 hands
- Foundation breed: Ardennais, Brabant, Flemish
The Belgian Draft, also known as the Belgian Horse, is a breed often used in policing due to its massive size, strength, and gentle temperament.
These powerful horses can perform various tasks, such as crowd control and patrols, and provide an authoritative presence during public events. Belgian’s reliability and endurance make it a highly valued police horse.
- Average height: 16 hands
- Foundation breed: Arabian, Byerly Turk
These horse breeds are known for their speed, agility, and athletic ability. While also recognised for their success in horse racing; Thoroughbreds slot perfectly into law enforcement roles. Their exceptional swiftness and endurance make them well-suited for tasks that require quick response and mobility.
6. Dutch Warmblood
- Average height: 15 – 17 hands
- Foundation breed: Groningen, Gelderland
The Dutch Warmblood is a versatile and elegant breed that is also used in the mounted police force. Known for their agile movements and athletic ability, Dutch Warmbloods bring a touch of grace and serenity to policing duties.
With their calm temperaments, they are great at crowd management and ensure public safety is a priority during law enforcement tasks.
7. Quarter Horse (or American Quarter Horse)
- Average height: 15 – 17 hands
- Foundation breed: Thoroughbred, Arabian, American horses
Quarter horses are well known for their speed and versatility – making them excellent companions for mounted police officers.
With their powerful and muscular builds, Quarter horses are brilliant at speedy accelerations and movements. Their calm nature makes these horses really valuable in search and rescue missions and crowd control.
When Were Police Horses First Used In The UK And Why Are They Still Used Today?
Police horse history
In 1790, the Metropolitan Police Mounted Branch, the oldest section of the Metropolitan Police, was established. This marked the beginning of the mounted police along UK streets. First known as the Bow Street Horse Patrol, their main duty was to police the turnpike roads (toll roads) leading into London – but we’ll explain more of this in a moment.
This made sure horse-drawn coaches were safe and protected from highwaymen. These toll roads, which were important routes into the capital, were financed through tolls set by an Act of Parliament. When the Metropolitan Police Force was formed in 1829, the Bow Street Horse Patrol became its mounted branch.
Note: A highwayman refers to a notorious robber (basically just bad people) who were known for their horseback robberies.
Still with us? Good!
This came at a time when London’s population was really growing and professional policing was desperately needed. Sir Robert Peel, Home Secretary in 1822, approved the establishment of a full-time, professional and centrally-organised police force for the Greater London area, with police officers using horses.
The Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 gave way to his vision, giving the Metropolitan Mounted Police authority over a radius of initially 7 miles from the city centre, later extended to 15 miles (excluding the City of London).
Today, with around 110 horses, the mounted branch works from various stables including Hyde Park, Great Scotland Yard, Lewisham, Hammersmith, and West Hampstead. Additionally, mounted branches can be found in many police forces across England, Scotland, and Wales.
Strathorn Skye, our homebred Connemara x Clydesdale working with Police Horse Scotland
What is a turnpike road?
A turnpike road is a type of road that was operated and maintained by a turnpike trust. These roads were launched under the authority of an Act of Parliament, which allowed the trust to collect tolls or fees from travellers which paid for the construction, improvement and maintenance of the roads.
The term “turnpike” originated from the practice of placing a pike (a type of barrier) across the road, which would be turned to allow passage once the toll was paid.
Wow, that’s almost 200 years of horse history!
Why are police horses still used today?
Police horses are used today for many reasons.
Firstly, they provide a strong and visible presence in the community, preventing criminal activity. The grand size and strength of these horses can help maintain crowd control and manage large-scale events or protests effectively. Police horses are also used for ceremonial occasions.
Police horses offer certain advantages over other forms of policing. They have a higher vantage point, allowing officers to scan their surroundings and spot potential issues more easily. Horses are able to steer through crowded areas much easier than vehicles and can get to locations that are usually unreachable to cars or bicycles.
Additionally, police horses have a unique ability to engage with the community in a positive way. They can help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the general public, as they often attract attention and strike up conversations. This interaction can help build trust, improve public relations, and enhance community policing efforts.
What Makes A Police Horse?
A police horse is not just any ordinary horse; it is a highly trained and specialised horse that plays an important role in keeping law and order. Here we look at some key elements that make perfect police horses.
- Temperament and trainability: Police horses need to have a calm and composed temperament, allowing them to remain steady and focused in tough situations. They undergo extensive training to become familiar with loud noises, crowds, and potential dangers that could occur while on duty.A trainable nature is also a must, as these horses need to be able to respond to the riders’ cues swiftly and reliably.
- Size and strength: Police horses generally have large builds, standing between 15 – 17 hands tall. Their size and strength allow them to have a commanding and authoritative presence to handle a variety of tasks with ease.
- Stamina and endurance: These horses often need to cover long distances, navigate mixed terrains, and work for long periods of time. This means they need to have excellent stamina and endurance to maintain their noble duties.
- Intelligence and sensitivity: Intelligence is another important trait in police horses, as they need to understand and respond to complex commands from their riders. They must be able to adapt to changing situations and remain calm in really difficult situations. This intelligent quality allows for easy communication between horse and rider.
- Versatility: A police horse must be versatile and adaptable to handle an assortment of scenarios. They should be comfortable working in various environments, such as urban areas, parks, crowded spaces, and rural areas too!
- Well-mannered and trustworthy: A good police horse engages with the public on a daily basis and therefore it’s important for them to be well-mannered and approachable. Trustworthiness is a major thing as these horses are relied upon by their riders and fellow officers in potentially dangerous situations.
- Health and fitness: Keeping these four-legged heroes fit and healthy is also very important. Regular veterinary care, proper nutrition, and exercise routines are necessary to keep them in tip-top condition to perform their duties.
- Age and gender: A horse should be four years or older, before partaking in full-time police work and usually retire between the ages of 18 – 20. Although these horses may be male or female, geldings are usually favoured.
A combination of temperament, size, strength, stamina, and versatility are what make a police horse exceptional. Their specialised training and stable relationship with their rider allow them to serve as valuable assets in law enforcement.
How Are Police Horses Trained?
Police horses in the UK undergo loads of vigorous training to prepare them for their full-time roles in law enforcement. The training process typically starts when the horses are around three or four years old.
Here are some key points of their training:
- Basic obedience: The training begins with teaching the horses basic obedience commands such as; halt, walk, trot, and canter. They learn to respond promptly to the riders’ cues and maintain a steady pace.
- Desensitisation: Police horses are exposed to various environmental triggers whilst on duty. That is why they are exposed to various sounds during their training; typically loud noises, crowds, and flashing lights, that help to desensitise them to potentially stressful situations.
- Crowd control: Horses are trained to remain calm and composed while working in crowded areas. They learn to navigate through dense crowds, maintain their position, and respond appropriately to the riders’ commands.
- Obstacle training: Police horses undergo obstacle training to improve their confidence and agility. They are introduced to various obstacles and obstructions, such as ramps, bridges and water crossings, to ensure they are reliable and capable when faced with these challenging terrains during service.
- Traffic training: Any police horse needs to be familiar with different types of traffic, including cars, buses, bicycles and pedestrians. They learn to manoeuvre through crowds and follow traffic signals under the guidance of the mounted police.
- Search and rescue: Certain departments within the mounted police force require police horses to be trained in search and rescue techniques. These mounted officers (and horses) learn to assist in locating missing persons, tracking scents, and navigating rough terrain.
- Fitness and conditioning: Any police horse must be able to perform at their peak whilst on duty and quite literally needs to be able to jump through hoops. These horses undergo gruelling fitness drills and regular conditioning programs, keeping them in tip-top shape. This helps to maintain their physical stamina and overall health.
Throughout their strenuous training, mounted police horses develop a strong bond with their riders and get used to working in partnership with them. This bond is strengthened through trust, communication and mutual respect.
What happens to retired police horses?
Once a police horse has finished its policing duties, it is typically retired and can enjoy a life of rest and relaxation.
The retirement process may vary between police forces but usually, they are adopted or relocated to new homes. Alternatively, they may be placed in equestrian “retirement villages” where their care and veterinary needs are met with lots of space to roam!
Where are the UK police horses kept?
There are eight branches where the UK mounted police horses are kept, namely; Hyde Park Barracks, Great Scotland Yard, Lewisham Police Station, West Hampstead, Hammersmith, Bow Road, King’s Cross and Imber Court in Surrey.