CPS Mounted Unit: A behind-the-scenes look at team training

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Comprised of five horses, the Calgary Police Department’s mounted unit is the only one in the province and it is also one of the most popular.

Officers and their equine partners can be spotted at major events in the city where there are large crowds throughout the year, but on a day-to-day basis civilians would be lucky to see them.

Although not visible all the time, these horses are usually hard at work, tasked with several tasks that are an integral part of CPS.

Equine training and facilities coordinator Robin Koltusky says they can be a powerful tool when searching for, for example, missing persons.

“They can access land inaccessible to bicycles. Pedestrians can sometimes do that, but they have a higher vantage point, so you can clear an area very effectively when you’re higher up and looking,” Koltusky said.

“They can also access the river with no problem, so they are also called upon for these types of calls.”

The horses also take part in daily general patrols. const. Tory Fassnidge, who has been with the CPS Mounted Unit for five years, says they patrol for most of the year.

“We go out roughly 365 days a year depending on the weather. Right now it’s cold outside so it’s difficult for us to patrol,” he said.

“Horses can handle the temperature, but it’s our fingers and toes that are the problem for humans.”

Horses and officers train together throughout the year for different scenarios. That day, the team organizes a mock protest to train them in crowd management.

Fassnidge says this type of training is important given that protests are growing across the country, including in Calgary. He says that at the moment the horses are only used for observation purposes during a demonstration, but it is important to be prepared.

“We are training for the worst case scenario. We don’t know what’s coming, but it’s expected to become more and more controversial, so we’re training for the worst case scenario,” he said.

There are a total of seven officers in the CPS Mounted Unit and each is assigned to a horse, although they can change animals if necessary.

NAMED AFTER CANADIAN BATTLES

Fassnidge is now associated with Dieppe, but Normandy was his first.

“We use our horses to stop people. It doesn’t happen as often, but we catch offenders from time to time,” he said. “Some horses are good at it and some aren’t. Dieppe is good for that.”

Then come Vimy, Ortona and Anzio to complete the five equines.

As a tribute to veterans, each is named after Canadian battles of the Second World War.

“They all have their own personalities,” Koltusky said.

“We have some that have a milder temperament, so they don’t bother them much and they’re pretty quiet. We have horses that are extremely curious so they want to get right into the action and see what’s going on.

Koltusky is responsible for selecting horses and training them to receive their police badge. She says she is looking for heavier breeds such as draft breeds.

“We currently have a Clydesdale, a few Percheron crosses and a Belgian cross in our herd. All of our horses are from Alberta,” she said.

“They go from northern Alberta to Lethbridge, so they come from all over the province.”

Koltusky says the CPS Mounted Unit is the only one in Alberta, providing a unique role in the force and a positive experience for them and the public.

“Everyone loves us,” she said. “They love horses that see them working and have a purpose.”

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