Police now patrolling atop ex-race horses

The UMPD is now the proud owner of 15-year-old Whisper and 6-year-old Louie.

Andy Steinke

Two thoroughbred quarter horses: $2,650.

Room and board for those two horses: $9,000 per year.

The presence of a mounted patrol unit to police the University campus: priceless.

“You can’t put a price on the horses being out there in the public,” said University Police Lt. Troy Buhta, who oversees the department’s special units, which include the mounted-patrol unit.

“Having an officer who can see suspects over a crowd is important.”

The University police department now owns two former race horses, 15-year-old Whisper and 6-year-old Louie, University police officer Jess Mendel said.

Mendel, who is one of four officers on the force trained to work with the horses, has been riding since the department started its mounted unit three years ago.

Whisper was donated to the Minneapolis Police Department and was later bought by the University police during the second year of its mounted patrol, Buhta said.

Louie was purchased last November, Mendel said, even though he had no prior experience being a police horse, and was trained over the winter.

“He wasn’t trained for mounted patrol,” she said, “so we had to teach him from scratch.”

Police horses must be accustomed to stepping on cans, plastic and other trash, and also have to learn to deal with gunshots and fireworks without spooking, Mendel said.

During the unit’s first two years, University police leased horses from the Minneapolis Park Police for use on campus, Buhta said.

Even though both the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments use their mounted patrols year-round, Buhta said the University uses its mounted patrol from the end of March to the end of October.

During the winter, Mendel and University police officer Marianne Scheel are reassigned to the patrol unit, but they still spend one day a week with the horses, he said.

The horses are mainly used for special events, but they are also used for everyday patrolling. They’ve been particularly helpful on campus during war protests, Buhta said.

They are also good public-relations tools for the police department, he said.

“The mounted officers are very approachable and the horses are a good conversation piece,” he said.

Because the horses are more versatile than a squad car or a motorcycle officer, they can cover a more diverse “swath” of campus, Buhta said.

But the police haven’t been clear of all problems with the horses.

“The horses bumped into cars and knocked off mirrors a couple of times during the first year,” Buhta said.

The two full-time officers, who spent two months training with the Minneapolis Police Department to learn how to handle the horses, work with Whisper and Louie four days a week.

Each Monday or Tuesday Mendel and Scheel spend a day with the horses in their stalls in Maple Plain, Minn. and do training with them regularly.

The next three days are spent patrolling campus. Buhta said the mounted patrol is used on both the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses, but the officers spend about 80 percent of their time in Minneapolis.

Even though the horses are on campus three days every week, they don’t appear to be too visible – at least to some students.

Human resources development sophomore Leigha French didn’t know the University police had horses.

“How long have they had those?” she said.

Civil engineering junior Jordan Cabak and environmental planning junior Aaron Armstrong shared the same sentiment when asked about the mounted patrol.

“I wasn’t aware they had horses,” they both said.