No horsing around for South Yorkshire's police mounted section
Following their recent move back into the county, we find out what life is like for the horses of South Yorkshire's police mounted section.
Under a cost saving plan with the West Yorkshire force, the mounted section moved to shared premises in Wakefield around two years ago.
However after a decision by the New Chief Constable for South Yorkshire Police Stephen Watson, the county's mounted section are now firmly back at their home of Ring Farm at Cudworth in Barnsley, and both the horses, and the officers couldn't be happier.
Sergeant Katherine Wallis said: "It's great to come back to South Yorkshire because we feel part of the organisation that we work for opposed to being so far away, and the communities are heavily involved with us, especially around Barnsley.
"We often get them waiting at the gate and acknowledging us and that's nice. It's nice to be in an area where we've got all the facilities that we need. At Carrgate, although they had some facilities, the facilities at Ring Farm are far better for us and for our requirements."
South Yorkshire is one of only 11 forces left with horses in the country, and it is regarded as an important component of policing the county's five football grounds as well as other duties such as public reassurance patrols.
Sgt Wallis explained what they look for in a police horse: "The major things are size, presence, demeanour, attitude, their personality really because they've got to be an all rounder, a balanced and steady horse.
"We look at cross breeds, probably a Shire cross or a Clydesdale cross and with those you are getting the size. They are generally nice and steady and have a good temperament which is what we look for in a police horse.
"We don't want something that is going to be really highly strung and charging round the place we want something reasonably placid but very brave as well."
Initially a horse is taken on for a month long trial, where they are put through initial training to make sure they are capable for the job, and it is then that the trainers get an idea if they are suitable for the section.
Sgt Wallis said: "We've got four weeks of putting the horse through some initial paces and training and that will highlight whether they are going to be suitable for further training.
"Sometimes a horse can be very nervous but they're willing to learn or sometimes they can be very nervous and you know that there's no way that they're ever going to get over that."
It is then that the real training starts, which can take up to a year or sometimes even longer to get the police horses to 'full public order level', meaning they can cope with things like crowds, loud noises and traffic.
The 'nuisance' training is held in the Ring Farm arena, where officers set up mock street scenarios with flags, poles and plastic walls which are knocked down to train the horse to cope with noises and disturbance.
"They have to learn to walk over different surfaces like tarpaulin, plastic bottles. A lot of this is not natural at all to a horse so they've got a big thing to overcome. It's quite intense training," Sgt Wallis added.
The officers at Ring Farm also work alongside their colleagues at the Public Order Training School to give the police horses experience in line work, training them in dispersal work, petrol bombing, fire and vehicle training, and to stand next to police vans with their sirens on.
The team consisting of one sergeant, six officers and nine police horses, are also on hand to other police forces to offer mutual aid, as Sgt Wallis said: "Two horses equal the power of about 10 police officers, so they are invaluable."
Community engagement is also a vital role for the mounted section, and each police horse is named after an South Yorkshire area to promote this.
When not at work, the horses are treated to some well deserved downtime in the fields at Ring Farm, which officers say is an important part of their regime, to let the horses de-stress and praise them for their hard work.
"I feel very privileged to ride the horses, and proud of the horses because it's not their natural environment and to overcome a lot of the training that we do it's a big effort on their part," Sgt Wallis added.
"A lot of their training depends on the trust in the rider, they take a lot of confidence from someone when they're riding them. So if the horse is nervous it's up to us to give them that confidence. You get a real bond with the horse."
Once the horses reach retirement, they are sent to specialist homes where they can be properly cared for, as Sgt Wallis said: "We are very cautious where we let them go to, they've served us well at that stage and deserve a happy retirement."