Establishing trust between the community and law enforcement starts at a young age — and can be much easier if a horse is involved.
Tuesday morning, Det. Yvonne McClellan with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office showed off her four-legged partner, Cody, to a group from the Piñon Project Family Resource Center’s youth summer programming. The young people learned about proper horse care and safety, but classes like this also play a greater role for the Mounted Patrol Unit, said Cindy Ramsay of the MCSO grants division.
“It’s all about community policing,” Ramsay said.
The MCSO Mounted Patrol Unit program began in early 2015 both as a way to promote a positive image of law enforcement, and also because horses can be beneficial in certain situations, like in search and rescue expeditions or seeing above crowds at large events.
Horses were donated by the Bureau of Land Management through the Wild Horse and Burro Program holding and training facility at the Centennial Correctional Facility in Cañon City. They are all mustangs.
Since coming aboard, the horses have participated in training programs and have assisted in rescues and with patrolling at special events, including the Montezuma County Fair, Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo and Dolores River Fest.
They also help with general MCSO patrol work, and are instrumental in promoting public trust in law enforcement, Ramsay said: Deputies are perhaps more approachable atop a horse than inside a law enforcement vehicle.
Human and horse deputies are paired up and serve together. Both are considered “deputies.” In fact, Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin was a strong proponent of state legislation signed into law in 2018 making it a Class 6 felony to harm police horses.
The horses took part in a scent training clinic in 2017 to better assist in search and rescue operations.
McClellan serves with her partner, Cody, a Mustang gelding born near the town of Rock Springs at the Divide Basin, Sweetwater County, Wyoming. At Tuesday morning’s session, she showed the group gathered about safe horse handling practices and proper horse care.
She also recounted some of Cody’s past assistance in drug discovery work and rescues, including his role in encountering some missing hunters in late 2018.
“He’s definitely a working horse,” McClellan told the youths.