“Working with a horse is not only therapeutic for us, but it gives us an opportunity to meet people. It’s like an icebreaker for people in the community. They don’t see us, they see the horse.”
– Officer M.R. Sherian, Raleigh Police Department Mounted Unit
by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Tim Lytvinenko
You’ve likely seen them at street festivals and parades: police officers atop horses, towering above the crowd. They are the Raleigh Police Department Mounted Unit, four special-operations officers assigned to the unique role of serving public security on horseback.
For this team, work and play are one and the same. “I’ve always had a passion for horses,” says officer J.A. Hood. “I applied for the Raleigh police department because they had horses. I love the animals and I love riding, and it’s something I wanted to do for work, too.”
Making it to the mounted unit is a competitive process. As a special-operations unit, officers need to put in a few years of general department service before they can try out to work with a horse. They must not only be in tip-top physical shape themselves, they also need to keep a horse in tip-top shape, and to put its needs above all else. “You’re with that horse all the time,” says Officer Hood. “On duty, you can’t just take a lunch break. He comes first: his care, his water break, whatever he needs. You have to want to do this job.”
Raleigh’s is the only patrolling mounted unit in the state. Officer Hood, who is the troop’s longest-serving member with 12 years of service, says there are a few remaining horses in the Winston-Salem police department at Old Salem and in downtown Wilmington. But none are maintained and work regular schedules like the capital city’s unit.
Since horses are pack animals, the mounted unit always travels in pairs: Officers Hood and Sherian are a permanent professional duo. “We’re predominantly in the parks and on the greenways,” says Officer Sherian. They keep a careful eye out for lone walkers and mothers with strollers. With over 100 miles of public greenways, they’ve got a lot of territory to cover. “We can get to places on foot that cars can’t get to.”