When two Clydesdale horses were donated to the Lexington Police Department earlier this year, members of the Mounted Unit understood they would have plenty of training on their hands. The horses weren’t just new to police work, they were new to horse riding altogether.
Winchester and his brother Remington have never been ridden. They are also the first Clydesdales to join the Lexington Mounted Unit.
“Everyone loves the Clydesdales. They’re beautiful. They’re very impressive-looking horses,” said Stephanie Keeley, a professor of Equine Studies at Midway University with 15 years of experience training horses for police work. She operates a business called Double S Horsemanship and is helping train Winchester and Remington.
The brothers came to the Mounted Unit barn on W. Sixth Street about four weeks ago from a farm in Mt. Sterling. Winchester is six years old and Remington five. Keeley says working with horses with limited experience is actually beneficial to their overall police training.
“You can pretty much set the foundation that you want from day one. I don’t have to worry about changing something they may have already been taught that doesn’t fit what this department needs.”
That foundation starts with a lot of groundwork and assessing each horse’s mental maturity. Keeley slowly introduces obstacles and pressure training. The goal is to adjust a horse’s natural “fight-or-flight” mentality when they encounter something new or unknown.
“They have to learn basic things, that if the horse is scared, you want to teach them to stand. It’s teaching them to halt, check-in, and then we move on. That starts on the ground and transitions to the saddle. So if we’re riding down the street and something happens, the horse stops instead of trying to run.”
Keeley says both Winchester and Remington are very teachable and have made tremendous progress in a short period of time. Inside the police department’s training arena, the horses have been introduced to cones, traffic barrels and wooden platforms. In the next couple of months, the goal is to have them under saddle and introduced to street work.
Sgt. Joseph Eckhardt says both horses have responded well to life in the Mounted Unit barn. A recent visit from Mayor Linda Gorton was cause for a full bath and grooming, which was likely the first time Winchester and Remington had ever had their ears or chin trimmed. Both horses handled being introduced to clippers with ease.
In terms of personality, Keeley describes both horses as friendly and curious, but she says each has some unique qualities. “Remington, the younger one, is very curious. He’s got a very expression filled face. He’s always wanting to see and explore. Winchester is a little more stoic. He kind of likes to look glorious and fabulous. He’s very large and you don’t miss him.”
While any breed of horse can work as a police horse, Keeley says the size and general temperament of Clydesdales make them ideal to work in stressful situations or in a crowd of people. If all goes as planned, Keeley hopes to have Winchester and Remington ready for full mounted police duties within a year.
“The focus is on what’s best for the horse and preparing the horse to the best of our ability before we put them out on the street. I want the horse to be successful and the officers here want the exact same thing.”
Brenna Angel, Public Information Officer