Saddle-up security

Jenny Salazar pets Hathaway’s horse at a recent concert in the

GILROY
– They’re the seven strongest, fastest and most intimidating
Gilroy Police Department officers, but it’s their unique talent of
goodwill that is their most valuable characteristic, and it will be
on display at this week’s Garlic Festival.
GILROY – They’re the seven strongest, fastest and most intimidating Gilroy Police Department officers, but it’s their unique talent of goodwill that is their most valuable characteristic, and it will be on display at this week’s Garlic Festival.

Bugsy, Dominic, Twister, Slyder, Shaman, Freisian and Justice aren’t just four-hoofed, saddle-toting police officers, they’re GPD ambassadors in charge of controlling daily crowds of more than 40,000 at the Garlic Festival.

“It’s amazing how the horses can break down barriers between us and people,” said Taryn Hathaway, an officer who partners with 14-year-old Morgan horse Dominic to make up one unit of GPD’s seven-horse, mounted force.

“I’ve seen gangsters that normally do nothing but swear at cops bring their children up to pet Dominic,” said Hathaway, sitting atop of Dominic while patrolling the parking lot of Gilroy High School the last day of school, June 13. “They end up talking to us and asking questions about the horse. Horses put people at ease.”

Created by the GPD 10 years ago to control crowds at the Garlic Festival, Gilroy’s mounted police unit is not as visible as similar units in large cities like San Jose, but Gilroyans can see plenty of horseback officers in the coming days.

Designated for assignment in the summer months and at special events like the Garlic Festival, the GPD’s mounted unit has maintained a strong presence at community events the past 10 years.

Used mainly as crowd control, GPD officers say the horses are an invaluable resource.

“The unit was essentially created for the Garlic Festival, but it was so successful it stayed around,” said GPD mounted officer Jason Kadluboski, who rides 10-year-old quarter horse Bugsy. “There’s nothing better for crowd control. If there’s a fight, the officers on the horse can see above the crowd and cut through the crowd much easier than on foot. Nobody’s going to get in the way of a 1,000-pound horse.

“Their size is intimidating. They’re fast and strong,” Kadluboski said. “But at the same time, they attract kids and families and open up lines of communication.”

Although they all vary in breed, age and size, the seven GPD horses have one thing in common – they all wear badges on a harness strapped over their chests – meaning it’s a felony to hurt them.

To make sure the horses stay in control in the crowded and chaotic situations such as the Garlic Festival, all undergo a strict training regiment.

Each of the seven horses is owned and trained by the seven GPD officers who ride them. Some of the officers who live in rural areas keep their horses at their homes, while others rent nearby stables. All train their horses at least once a week, exposing it to situations such as tossed projectiles, loud noises and running criminals.

The training apparently is effective.

“We’ve had people throwing bottles at us, and I was amazed how (Bugsy) remained calm,” Kadluboski said. “Before they were selected for the unit each horse was tested for temperament, but it still takes a lot of training to prepare them for some of the situations we’re in. … Of course, there’s always the possibility of danger when you have large animals in a chaotic situation.”

Christine Amber, owner the Equestrian Training facility on Roop Road, acknowledges the possible harm the large horses can cause at a crowded event, but she thinks the positives of the mounted program outweigh the possible dangers.

“Using horses gives the police department a way to be powerful without being negative,” Amber said. “Horses are big and strong, but they draw people. They’re not threatening like large dogs, who are predators. Horses are prey, so people are more relaxed around them.”

Some people might even become too relaxed around the horses, like the drunk driver at Eighth and Monterey streets who Hathaway and Dominic once pulled over.

“He was so drunk he didn’t notice that I was riding a horse and using my flashlight for a siren,” said Hathaway, who’s been a member of the mounted unit with Dominic since it was created 10 years ago. “It’s amazing how when you’re on a horse people don’t think you’re the same as the police officers in a patrol car.”

The department’s other horses – including Shaman, a retired thoroughbred race horse – have ran down their fair share of criminals as well, Hathaway said, but usually the horses act as more of a deterrent than a crime stopper.

“We have the best job in the department as far as I’m concerned,” said Kadluboski, who’s teamed with Bugsy for the past five years. “We get the opportunity to meet people who would never even look in our direction before. Then, the next day you’re back in your patrol car and try to talk to the same people, but the wall is built back up.”

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