This spring, the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office will add two officers to its roster – officers with hooves.
Sheriff Steve Nowlin announced his plan to start a mounted patrol program back in March of 2015, but only now does it appear close to fruition. This week the sheriff’s office finished putting up a Cortez stable for the patrol horses, and Nowlin said he expects to pick up the first two animals by the middle of March. The horses, mustang geldings adopted from the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro program, are scheduled to start training with four sheriff’s deputies in April.
After almost two years of planning, Nowlin said he’s excited to finally put hooves on the ground in Montezuma County.
“I needed to have an avenue to bring people in the community closer to the officers of this agency,” he said. “And what better way to do that than to have this medium, the horse? Everybody’s attracted to horses.”
His plan is to pick up two geldings from a BLM holding area in the second week of March. They haven’t been chosen yet, but Nowlin said he will only consider animals that meet certain requirements: for example, they must be sorrels or bays between 14 and 16 hands high, and they must have the temperament to be around large groups of people without getting spooked. After the department picks out their ideal candidates, they’ll be transported to the property of Ted Holland, a reserve officer with the sheriff’s office who will be in charge of mounted patrol training.
Nowlin hopes to hold a two-week intensive training course in April, and have the horses ready for regular patrols by early June. But he admitted “that might be pushing it.”
In addition to the one outside the sheriff’s office in Cortez, Dolores also has a stable and holding area for the horses, since the sheriff hopes to send them on patrol in both towns. Andrew Ghere, a patrol deputy in Dolores, will be one of the first people to train for the mounted patrol. He said he’s excited because he believes a horse will help him do more friendly “community policing,” his favorite part of the job.
“I want to be the cop everyone goes to when they have a problem,” he said. “I want people to know me and know I’m approachable.”
Ghere hasn’t been on a horse in about 15 years, he said, but that’s not a problem to Nowlin. Since mounted patrol is so different from other kinds of riding, he said he’d rather have deputies with scant riding experience so that they don’t have to unlearn old habits.
Although the horses will already be trained by BLM before they arrive in the county, Holland will give them additional training to help them adapt to the kind of terrain they’ll patrol with the department. Nowlin said he even wants to give them scent training so they can help deputies track suspects or missing people.
There were some “question marks” in his mind about using wild horses for the patrol, the sheriff said, but he believes the benefits will outweigh the risks. The department originally chose to get horses through the BLM program in order to save money, and in response to community input, Nowlin said. But he thinks mustangs have some genetic advantages as well, like their strong hooves, which won’t need to be shod.
He also wants horses that can adapt to a wide variety of terrain. Mounted deputies will patrol places that cars can’t reach, including the uneven ground near Boggy Draw and other wilderness areas.
Although he acknowledged there may still be some delays, depending on how long it takes deputies to train with the horses and other factors, Nowlin’s goal is to have the mounted patrol program underway by summer. Although it will start out with just two horses, he hopes to add two more next year.
“My expectations are not too high, but they’re high,” he said. “I think we’re going to have a really great program.”