I’m so lucky! I’m at the top secret Mounted
Horse Training Centre in London somewhere with these absolutely beautiful horses. They’re the ones
that you see when you go to football games, or maybe out on patrol, then you see these
beauties. They all get together a few times a year and train here at the Mounted Training
Unit. We’ve been lucky enough to be invited down
by Sgt Craig, who is stood right behind us, who you will be speaking to in a little bit.
We’re going to watch them behind the scenes whilst they train for their Activity Ride
where these Police Officers go out every year to different shows and showcase what their
horses can do. Also part of this training for the Activity Ride actually helps them
with their day to day work that they have to do. So I feel very honoured to be here
today and I can’t wait to show you what these guys get up to I feel very special today because I’m in theMounted Police Unit with Sgt Craig Richards,
how are you? Yeah good thank you
Thank you for letting us be here today, you’ve given us a backstage tour of what goes on
with all the horses and your job here. Can you explain to us what you do.
My job here at Imber Court is I’m in charge of the training for the officers, I look after
the horses and their duties, Police staff duties here. I also, one of my sidelines is
I run the Activity Ride as you’ve seen the baby Activity Ride Training today.
The babies are the baby horses, the new ones coming through, not Sgt’s with babies that
come on and decide to have a go at jumping No, young horses
I take part in that training and I also ride in the Activity Ride when we do the shows.
My job is very varied, probably one of the most varied in the mounted branch really.
One of the highlights is taking the young officers, we’ve got a course on at the moment
which is a 16 week course, we see them from the very beginning, some of them are great
riders, some of them are complete novice riders and seeing them progress through the 16 weeks.
One of my jobs is I assess them every 4 weeks to make sure they are reaching the required
standard, which is great. Yeah, some of them you don’t have to have
experience with horses to be able to be part of the Mounted Force?
It’s changed over the years, there’s this myth that we don’t want riders we want to
mold them into our own shape, which isn’t the case really. The course now is 16 weeks
long which is quite a short amount of time to teach someone to ride, part of the assessment
that we do, all that I ask of a person before joining is that they’re able to walk, trot,
canter, maybe perform some school moves, very simple school moves because what I’m looking
for is that when they arrive here on day 1 of the week 1 of the 16 week course, they’re
able to just keep up with the rest of the group because by the end of week 1, we’re
normally jumping very small fences, doing some trotting poles or something. So they
do have to be at a level of riding, but they don’t have to be competing every weekend.
Thats so good though isn’t it and all these officers are currently police officers that
they can be any part of the police force and just decide to have a go
Yeah thats right, so as long as a Police Officer has passed their probation they are eligible
to apply. We do look for good grounding and we do look for a variety of skills, this course
for example we’ve had people with three years service but we’ve got people with 14 years
service and its really good. We don’t say you know, forget those things you’re now a
mounted officer you’re going to do that because we like the different variety of people coming
in to pass on the words to the rest of us who may have been in the mounted branch for
quite a while. So how did you get into it?
So, I wasn’t a rider, my wife was very horsey, she still is quite horsey, but that was her
hobby, I never really had much involvement with the horses, I think I’d sat on a horse
a couple of times maybe growing up in Derbyshire. I probably just jumped on one
Ha ha are you a horse widower Ha ha yes
You were there to pick up the grooming box and to brush the horses
Ha ha I didn’t even go down to the stables thats the thing, but then I think I saw one
of my friends who was a mounted branch and he came to my team and he was telling me what
a good job it was. If anything happens you’re normally the first people there, you get to
do a variety of things and I started thinking about it and I think I was on foot duty at
a football match that went wrong, you know there was quite a bit of trouble, and I remember
seeing the horses charging into the crowd and I remember looking at them thinking, oh
my god, you know, I’d rather be up there than down here! So I just applied, I didn’t think
I’d get in, I had a couple of lessons, not lessons, a couple of sit on’s of friends horses,
managed to get through all the interviews and selections. Went into the small school
and my assessment was like the wall of death Really!
It was literally the horse was out of control, galloping away with me
No way! But I think because I stayed on and because
I was, you know, it didn’t really bother me, I think they could see that they could actually
mold me a little bit. Because our course then was 20 weeks and it was a little bit easier.
But thats interesting that the horse was quite insane, because we look at police horses and
we think they’re the best trained, they’re the most savvy, they’re bomb-proof, they’re
the safest, but looking at what you were doing today they had a lot of life in them
Yeah they are, they’re just horses aren’t they, you know and thats the thing, people
do look at our police horses and think that they are bomb-proof and they are amazing.
We invest a lot of time into them and as you’ve seen today, the training is very progressive,
but we have to back off sometimes and take it back a little step, like you saw today
with some of the issues with the fire and things, so we put a lot of work into making
them the best that they can be. But, they’re horses and horses, I mean I could take you
around here, I’ve probably got 30 horses, something like that, that are here today,
and I could tell you a little trait about each of the horses
One of them stole our cameraman’s keys out of his pocket!
Ha ha yes, Quest, yeah he’s a thug, obviously you had Lockern with his issue where he looks
after his box, he’s very box proud, you know all of them, all of them have got something
which they don’t like. One of the greatest things these two weeks,
the last baby activity ride that we did was, a horse came in called Sampson and he’s really
scared of paper, so you know paper bags flying around on the street terrifies him. When we
first went into the school he was scared of the jump so he wouldn’t even jump and at the
end of 2 weeks we had him jumping through a paper hoop
wow with paper wrapped around him and you know
that to me, that is the sort of sense of achievement, so he will go out of here, hopefully, I mean
obviously he’ll still have some sort of fear of it because its ingrained somewhere, but
he goes out of here having jumped through paper when he came in scared of it, so its
great. How did you get him used to that in such a
short space of time Just slowly, we introduce them to things that
they don’t like, like the fire, we’ll get people to light the fire and we’ll get them
to walk around. By taking confidence from the rider and also we’ll have experienced
horses in there as well, so by seeing a horse like Quest who just wonders up to fire and
is not bothered by it, they take a lead off him and then they think actually this is alright.
Once we’ve got that reassurance then we maybe go on a little bit more and we get them to
go independently and if they back off then we back off as well. We introduced it a little
bit more slowly. We saw that today with Spitfire who didn’t
jump through the hoop So when he wouldn’t jump through the hoop,
bless the rider she sat so well, she did amazingly well and managed to get him through eventually,
but you said take a step back, show him the fire, let him get used to it and that was
really interesting to watch was that the horsemanship that you take on and you use for your training
we do every day as well and it’s the same techniques, its get them used to it, do it
slowly don’t let anything scare them and then when they’re confident enough they’ll go through it Exactly yeah and some of them won’t, some
of them just won’t accept it at all and its recognising those horses as well, so you don’t
make them do it, you don’t make them have it, or you try to get around it in certain
ways so you can achieve your aim, but some of them won’t have it, but the majority, if you just take your time, back off, know when to back off, but know when to push on as well.
Yeah And it’s the same with Police horses training,
you’ll have an amazing horse that might go backwards a little bit and then so you have
to re-address it, or you might have a really bad horse that ends up doing some fantastic
jobs that, I look at some horses now and I think I never would have imagined that they
would be doing that, because I remember them rearing up on the street, or whatever, and
they’ve gone onto greatness just by the fact you’ve just taken your time a little bit,
or maybe moved things around just a little bit.
What do you do with those horses though because you have a duty of care to the public as well
so, Thats right, yes
So health and safety wise it must be really tough
Yeah What do you do if you have a horse that, I
remember seeing years a go a video of the Queens Parade, every year I think it’s New
Years Day or around that time, and there was a horse that spooked and it went galloping
down the street and I though my gosh, I felt for the rider because one they’d be really
embarrassed that their horse had played up during that parade, but also you’ve got a
duty of care so how do you balance how safe a horse is compared to when they’re ready
to take them out. I mean its a real challenge, we take it in
stages. We look at a horse initially, so we have a horse at 4 weeks or look at it, if
it passes a very basic test, so I’m talking about being nice to handle, standing still, you know not being manger proud,
not kicking, things like that, very basic, if it will accept traffic, then we’ll decide
to buy it. Then it goes through a process of about 12 months here at Imber Court with
a trainer where it’s exposed to things really gradually.
It will go out, maybe do an hour patrol on really quiet roads and then as the training
progresses we’ll introduce things like noise in the school, there may be a few nuisances,
go out on longer patrols to busier places, we’ll maybe take it out to our public order
training centre, so again it’s going through things really slowly.
Now if you’ve had a horse, once they’ve passed all that initial training and you’ve issued
it to a rider, if they go to a stable and then that horse, it can be 6 months a year
down the line when they start experiencing problems because of something thats happened
on the street, we will just re-address it. We’ll get them back here to Imber Court, we’ll
look at the, sometimes in drastic circumstances, moving the horse because a lot of horses very
very quickly learn where they are. Right
We are very limited to access, roads, at certain stables, so very quickly if a horse has got
a homing instinct in it, it will learn the route back home, so it will tend to mess around
a little bit more. So if we change that environment and maybe move it to one of the quieter stables,
or a stable that has more access roads, that sometimes helps as well. You’ll find that
horses, once they’ve moved, they do tend to settle.
And what about the riders then, when you’re selecting, you have riders coming through
all the time, you’re buying new horses all the time training them up, how do you pick
which rider will have which horse? Most of the time it’s just a natural progression,
so you would have had a rider that maybe has turned out a horse, made the horse operational,
we class them as re-mounts, which is where a horse is a youngster in training, you have
to look at what it does, it won’t be going to a football match on it’s own, it won’t
be going to any really problematic football games, so you’re really careful by what it
does. Once it becomes operational then any person can ride it and it can go to all the
jobs, thats not to say you just write it off and think, oh well it’s operational we’re
just going to do that, still there are a lot of horses that can only be ridden by certain
people, there are limitations you don’t completely write it off.
How did you end up setting up the Activity Ride and deciding, ok this is what we do for
a job every day, we go out on our horses operationally, but now we’re going to take that into the
show ring and we’re going to jump through fire and we’re going to take our stirrups
off and canter bareback and jump bareback and hold our saddles up and just look really
amazing!? So that started way before my time, that started,
I can’t remember the exact date but it started basically with the horse show here at Imber
Court and they wanted to, the branch was a lot bigger then and they wanted to basically display the skills of a mounted officer, and thats
the main thing with us, we’re not a display team, we’re literally coppers on police horses, none of
us have been to any sort of school or, we’re not acrobats or anything like that, we’re
just literally police officers on police horses, which makes it all the more unique really.
But it was basically started to display the skills of the mounted officer. I personally
started on the ground staff many years ago and as time went on and I became qualified
to be able to ride on it, then I became a rider as a police constable, I was promoted
and just natural progression really to being down at Imber Court.
We took a break from the ride for a couple of years for the Olympics,
Oh really why was that? Just because of the operational requirements,
so many horses were needed in the Olympics and the surrounding events that there just
wasn’t enough time. So we had a break for a couple of years because
of the Olympics and because of various things that were going on, it was quite a busy time
and then about 2 years ago we re-established it, Chief Inspector Helen O’Sullivan, she
reformed it and I was training to be a Sergeant here then, because I had been on the ride,
together we sort of formed the team again. We had to get new horses in because a lot
of the established horses from years ago, they weren’t now in the branch or they weren’t
able to do it, so we had to basically start from scratch.
Gosh Which was quite interesting
The real fascinating thing for us walking round and being allowed to see behind the
scenes here, is the welfare of the horses, every horse, I mean they just smell amazing,
they look amazing, they feel amazing, they’re so healthy, their hooves are perfect, but
interestingly you have a little sick bay for the poorly ones,
Yeah So you still, you own them, you care about
them so much there’s a lot of, it’s all about the horses more than it is the people which
is lovely Oh yes completely because without them we’re
nothing Without them we don’t exists, as a branch
we don’t exist. We always say that while they’re in here we treat them like kings, once we’re
on their back they have to do what we say, but in here in the stable everyone’s responsible
for them and they do get the best of care, they want for nothing.
There’s a lot of soft riders, you know there’s none of this wacking them around and saying
you’ve got to do this Ohhh Noooo noooo we’d never have that
It’s all very gentle, soft, caring Progressive, thats the main thing Who trained you to be a rider? My training was all done here by a police officer So do you have police officer instructors?
We have three permanent police officer instructors down here and they are responsible for the
basic course, the standard equitation course, every officer in the mounted branch has to
come back to Imber Court to do a week or two weeks training a year, they’ll be re-assessed
in Dressage and Jumping, so the instructors down here will do that. They also do advanced
and intermediate courses or development courses, so it’s quite a full on job, you know they’re
busy all the time. Thats a shame so we can’t book a lesson with
them then?! Nooo
On the side, you know, teach my horse how to… because that would be great woudn’t
it, if you could do lessons at the weekend teaching how to desensitize your horse from
Because I love the fact that in your school, can you just explain what was in your indoor
school. In the small indoor school along the wall
there are 6 flags, three on each side that we unravel to give the horse exposure to flags.
We also have stage props of the Grim Reaper and the Horseman
of the Apocalypse, which are really large, I don’t want to describe them as!
It’s like halloween in the indoor school! It’s very scary in there, it’s scary for us
let alone for the horses. The horses are great with it, they’re fine.
What’s the idea behind it That came about because of a disturbance on
May Day, we were in a line on May Day and the protestors ran at the horses carrying
these horsemen of the apocalypse. The horses had never seen anything like that
before, they’d never been familiarised with it at all and it caused us some issues on
the day. Was anyone hurt?
No, not at all Oh good, good so everyone was fine
Yes and the horses were fine as well, so the thinking at the time was well, if we make
these things ourselves, get someone to make them for us from a stage company, then when
the horses see them again, then they’ll be fine with it.
And they are? To be honest I haven’t seen a horseman of
the apocalypse in the last ten years, I think they’re fine with it. Can you tell me what it takes to be a Mounted Police Officer?
I’m not sure really, you need to have a bit of independence about you, you know independent
thinking because if we go on a job together there will normally be one sgt and 5 police
officers and we can hold a road, whereas it will take a lot more on foot, maybe 20 on
foot to do that. So a mounted officer needs to have that independence about them to be
able to think if somethings going wrong, to be able to point it our or deal with something
independently, but they also need to be very disciplined because ultimately they’re in
charge of 850kg of flesh and bones, so they need to be very responsible, they need to
be dedicated because generally you take quite a lot of knocks in this job, working with
animals and it’s early hours and it’s long shifts and static work, so you have to be
very dedicated to it. But the rewards that you get from it, the rewards from having an
animal as your partner at work are just incredible. It’s amazing isn’t it, it is a real partnership.
You must want to protect them when you’re out there
Yeah you do How do you stop idiots from hurting them or,
I know you said earlier that you do have one horse here that’s been punched before and
they guy that punched him actually got sent to jail thank goodness, which is great, but
that must, you know I’m protective of my horse when I’m on the road if there’s a dodgy driver
I’m like, no, with my whip out getting them to stay away, so how do you protect them in
such dangerous situations? We protect them by their training, we protect
them by where we put them, we try not to put them in that situation in the first place,
if we have to go into a situation like that we always try and have other people with us
and you know decent horses around us, but for us if that situation arises it’s like
one of our foot colleagues, one of our human colleagues, you know you can’t, you just have
to deal with it at the time really. Is there an element of you will try and get
yourself out of the situation so you can foresee what’s going to happen.
Yes a lot of the time, but a lot of the time you are being put there because of a situation
and you’re being asked to resolve it. So we protect them by the kit they wear, sorry my
phone was going off then, when we go on particularly difficult jobs they wear a lot of kit, they
wear a nose guard, they wear a viser, they wear leg guards, they wear things on their
chest. You know we do try and protect them a lot, but ultimately we do have to put them
into these situations, if we can get out then we get out, you know as a first option I would
haha But you’ve got to get them even used to all
that kit, Yes
you know I have a nice flashy new bridle that I’m trying to put on my horse but because
it shines so much in the sun he doesn’t like it, so how do you get all that kit on them?
Yeah, again slowly, we’ve had a lot of horses that have been quite head shy when they’ve
come in and again it’s just you know, it’s just doing things really slowly, treats and
they all tend to accept it in the end, you know they’ll all accept it in the end and
some of them you just put it on and they just carry on as if normal. So all the horses, you said you have about 30 horses here
Yes Do some of them live in other places and then
they travel down just for the training? Thats right, so we’ve got, here at Imber Court
we’ve got a mixture of sick horses, so they’ll be at one of the stables, maybe have an injury
or something like that and they’ll come in here to recover. We’ve also got escort horses,
we’ve got 4 escort horses who’s job is solely to escort the young horses.
We’ve got people that have brought in their horses for training, so we’ve got annual training
on at the moment and we’ve also got the baby activity ride. So people have brought those
horses in from outside, from one of the stables outside. And we’ve also got the young horses
that are here that we’ve maybe purchased and then we’re putting through their training.
Right So we’ve got a variety here
There’s lots going on, there’s more that just going out on patrol isn’t it really
It is here yeah So out of the training then, so you had a
few people that came in for training today, we were lucky we filmed some you’ll be able
to see that on HorseHour.co.uk and on our twitter and facebook and everything, umm they
were, were they being assessed? No no,
Thats just training? Just training yes, standard equitation, they’re
just in training, they get assessed every 4 weeks so they had their 4 week assessment
and they’re all ok with it. So their next one is in 2 weeks time.
ahh I’d say pass them all because they were phenomenal, they were pulling off their saddles,
I mean who came up with the idea of I tell you what, while we’re cantering we’ll take
off our saddles and we’re going to go over a jump!
I don’t know, I don’t know I mean their balance is phenomenal
It is pretty good, but you know that comes from the basic training really. One of the
things that we do with the standard course on the weekend, is that we’ll do a ride without
saddles because you don’t get to learn to ride unless you ride without a saddle.
Yeah Because it just seems so easy when you put
a saddle back on and with these guys, you know, the first thing that I did, because
out there in the stables, they won’t take their saddles off and ride them bareback because
you don’t really have enough time to do that, but one of the first things I did was, say
who’s ridden their horse bareback and no one had, well take your saddles off and just ride
round bareback because it’s a big thing, for the horse as well, you know they’re not used
to it. Yeah
As part of the ride that really isn’t the most difficult thing for me, on the ride
What’s the most difficult thing for you? Probably the jacket
What do you do with the jacket? We take our jackets off as we go down the
line, so we take our jackets off and then we ride around and then we put them back on
as we’re jumping the fences Gosh
I think for me just because I’m so stiff in my shoulders it’s actually tough, if I was
just trying to put my jacket on now I would struggle, so doing it on a horse cantering
and jumping How do you as their sergeant look after the
safety of the riders as well because, you know I wear a body protector a safety hat,
I’ll do everything and I guess you already, you’ve got quite a lot on you already, but
is there ever a thought of, because you’ve hurt your back haven’t you, is there ever
a thought that you should be wearing body protectors?
Umm the thing about the Activity Ride and body protectors is every rider is a volunteer
and every rider has been selected because of their skill, don’t tell them that but,
they have you know, people volunteer to do the Activity Ride and it isn’t for everyone
and no matter what riding ability they have it’s very different. It takes a certain kind
of person to be able to do it, umm they’re all volunteers and they’re all very good riders,
they all have the opportunity to wear a back protector and we did on the last baby Activity
Ride we did have people wearing back protectors because that’s their personal choice. If we
do any sort of jumping down here, they wear back protectors it’s just a rule.The problem
with the Activity Ride is you’ll see you have to be so dextrus that the back protector actually
causes more problems than it maybe solves because you have to move around in the saddle,
you have to take the saddle off, you have to move your jacket, you can’t do that while
you’re wearing a back protector. They have the option to do it and they all disclaim
to say that they’ve been, you know they do have the option, but where we’ve had incidents
where people have fallen off here, I don’t think a back protector would have helped,
well it might have done, I mean we’ve not really..
Let’s not jinx it. Let’s not do that no
Even out on patrol though, do you not think that maybe they could think about wearing
them out? Well they have to wear stab vests, they have
to wear our Met Vests Ohhhhhhh ok
Because of the security implications, so they’ve got, they’re not equestrian back protectors,
but they are what we call a Met Vest which is basically a stab-proof vest. So they have
to wear them. Which will still support them so at least
they’ve got something. It will do yes.
Because I’m just thinking, gosh you know they’re in such dangerous situations, you know, really
you never really know what’s going to happen at any point, and I’m probably talking because
I had an accident a couple of weeks ago so I’m a bit safety conscious at the moment anyway!
But I would say don’t use an air vest because that scares the life out of them, thats what
happened, the air vest went off made such a loud bang, Blackjack spooked and thats how
I fell off the back Wow
So yeah no air vests, although saying that your horses are used to loud bangs
Mmm I don’t know you say that, but you know they probably wouldn’t be because they’ve
not really experienced that. We don’t use them in our training, we don’t use them for
our standard course or anything, I don’t really know much about them.
You don’t use guns and bangs? Ohh we don’t use air-vests
But you use guns and do you have loud bangs and things?
We do yeah we expose them to gun fire and we expose them to loud bangs and smoke and
things like that. How can we get in touch if we want to follow you? You can follow us @mettaskforce on Twitter,
that’s probably the best way to contact us or via the met police website.
And you’re always putting out photo’s and videos of you guys training and it is lovely
to see the guys that we saw today, we’ve seen frequently over the last few years and it’s
nice to see them back, you know continuing their trianing, continuing what they do.
Brilliant, thank you. Thank you so much for having us here today.
Cheers Amy, thank you.