This year, the Mounted Patrol unit for the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office is celebrating its two-year anniversary.
The Mounted Patrol was founded both as a way to promote a positive image of law enforcement, and also because horses can be beneficial in certain contexts, such as search and rescue or seeing above crowds at large events, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Sheriff Steve Nowlin. “It is a very valued asset.”
The Mounted Patrol currently consists of three horses and four riders, who divide daily care and feeding of the horses, and mainly try to ride them as much as possible.
“It’s fun for me, it’s therapy,” said Detective Yvonne McClellan, who works with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and also serves on the Mounted Patrol. “It’s what I would do if I could, spend time with horses.”
The Mounted Patrol is not a full-time job – all members have other positions as well. Nowlin said he hopes to someday make it a separate, full-time unit under the Sheriff’s Office.
The horses are donated by the Bureau of Land Management through the Wild Horse and Burro Program, and are all mustangs.
“They have a lot of heart,” McClellan said. “They are tough horses, they are resilient horses. They bring a lot to the table that I think the regular Mounted Patrol horses don’t have.”
McClellan raised and bred horses for a while, but she said her bond with her horse Cody is different. “These horses were off the range,” McClellan said. “They are more in tune as far as what is going on around them. They have to be to have survived in the wild, to have that natural, wild instinct.”
Nowlin says the horses are beneficial in multiple scenarios, from accessing hard-to-reach areas quickly to granting officers a higher vantage point to see over large crowds.
The unit has been involved in a handful of search and rescue operations, and they appear at a variety of events, including the Dolores River Fest, trail rides, Ute Mountain Rodeo and others.
A crucial purpose of the patrol is to promote a positive law enforcement image, and to bridge divides, Nowlin said.
“It breaks down all barriers and people love to see them,” he said.
The patrol unit was involved in some controversy last summer when one horse kicked a 4-year-old in the head at Escalante Days.
Nowlin said that following this incident, deputies on horseback now stay on the outskirts of big crowds and stand in such a way that they can warn people to be careful of the horses’ legs.
“We learned a very valuable lesson,” he said, adding that they were lucky the incident wasn’t more serious, and that other Mounted Patrol and K-9 units face similar challenges.
“It doesn’t take away their added benefit,” Nowlin said.
He hopes to grow the program in the future, and would like to bring on more horses.
“The horses have been a part of our country’s history, our state’s history, our county’s history,” he said. “They deserve to be right there beside us.”