San Francisco police officers must be on a waiting list for years to join the nation’s second-oldest mounted patrol unit, says Sgt. Phil Downs. “Let’s just say it was hardly a spur-of-the-moment decision to join,” who was on a waiting list for 13 years, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Founded in 1872 (two years after New York City’s), the mounted patrol unit once had 30 badge-wearing horses; there are only 13 on-duty patrol ponies left at the department’s stables in Golden Gate Park.
Although some critics write off the mounted patrol as a chance for police officers to joyride, many don’t realize that the horses are putting their lives at risk. “During crowd control on New Year’s Eve, we’ll get drunks throwing champagne bottles and other sharp objects right at the horses’ faces,” says Downs. “We’ve even had people pick up entire police barricades and throw them at us.” Crowd control is where the horses come in especially handy, because they have the ability to be imposing without being threatening, he says. All 13 horses on patrol are geldings (neutered males) and include Clydesdale mixes, American quarter horses, and Tennessee walkers. Long before they join the force, candidates are spotted for personality traits that would make them good horse police officers. Being calm, curious and affectionate with people is a must. But following strict orders and going through intense noise desensitization training is even more important before a horse can take on the noisy and unpredictable streets of San Francisco.