Ace, a 16-year-old percheron, towers over Senior Cpl. Bobby Favors. At 18 hands (6 feet at the top of the withers) and 1,900 pounds, the horse makes a commanding partner.
He’s one of 12 horses and nine officers housed at the Dallas Police Department Mounted Unit stables in Fair Park. “It’s a blessing to come to work here,” Favors says. The years he spent on night patrol taxed his physical and emotional health, so he jumped at an opening in the Mounted Unit. So far he has spent 18 years in the saddle—years he never could have done in a squad car.
To be part of the Mounted Unit, horses must be at least 16 hands tall. Officers prefer the steady presence and crowd-moving ability of draft horses, like the French Percheron breed, which make officers highly visible while at the same time giving them an optimal vantage point over crowds.
“More people can see mounted officers, and it creates a safe feeling,” says Sgt. Michael Hunter, who joined the Mounted Unit in 2006, after stints in community policing and patrol and gang units. “When you drive around a neighborhood in a squad car, people won’t look at you. When you’re on a horse, it brings people out and creates positive interactions within the community. The officers engage with the citizens. You find out where the drug houses are, find out who is doing what. Those interactions are so good for us.”
One horse functions as the physical equivalent of 10 officers, making mounted units efficient at moving crowds, clearing the way for emergency vehicles, and getting officers in and out of emergency situations. Five mounted officers were downtown during last year’s police ambush, working at first to monitor the planned march and then later to calm and direct frantic citizens and fellow officers after the shooting began.
Any officer with a rank of senior corporal and above can apply to work in the unit, and prior riding experience is not required. The Mounted Unit conducts a six-week training program, but riders can also receive advanced training from representatives of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In basic training, officers are taught dressage and cavalry commands, historically developed for military use.
Although the beat is hot and dangerous—officers can get thrown off their horses—Favors wouldn’t work anywhere else. “It’s a softness, a magnet,” he says of his equine partner, who has spurred interactions with citizens he couldn’t have imagined. A newly released inmate at the downtown Greyhound station struck up a conversation about his prior job working with horses; Favors says he never would have made the connection without his horse.
“That’s the magical part of this job,” he says. “It’s kept me going.”