Hayden Visitors to last weekend's Hayden Daze festival were introduced to the newest members of Hayden's police force. Horses Smokie and Jake, both geldings, made their debut in what Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch is calling a mounted patrol "pilot program."
Birch and Hayden police Officer Ed Corriveau sat atop the horses, which were used to patrol the perimeter of Hayden Daze events and the event's parking lots. Mounted units will next be used during the Routt County Fair. Birch said mounted units are ideal for patrolling special events with crowds of people because of their visibility to residents and the high vantage point they afford officers. Whether the horses will ever be used on a more frequent basis for tasks such as patrolling neighborhoods has yet to be determined, Birch said. He said the horses were popular with residents at Hayden Daze.
"It's a very, very fun, very positive way to connect with the public because people love to see horses," Birch said.
Although new to Hayden, mounted units are no stranger to Birch, who for seven years oversaw the mounted division of the Los Angeles County police department he retired from. Thirty-year-old Smokie is a 15-year veteran of that same force. Birch is the owner of both horses.
The pilot program's costs to the town have been limited to two official police blankets for the horses, Birch said. The time officers spent training for the program was volunteered.
The horses also went through training to get them used to crowds, loud noises, vehicles and other things they might encounter as police horses, Birch said.
"A lot of the work for the horses is sensory training, creating a situation where the horse is bombproof," Birch said.
Birch said whether the horses would be used for more than special events would be determined based on practicality. He said he could imagine everyday situations that might be appropriate for a mounted unit.
"There are things you can do on foot, there are things you can do in a vehicle and there are things you can do on a horse," Birch said.
Birch noted the horses are familiar with the rural areas around Hayden and could possibly be used to assist search and rescue missions.