police horses

Police horses Phoenix and Amber pose for the camera.

Are police dogs the only working animal on the NC State police force? The police horses say “neigh.” Founded in 1987, the Mounted Patrol Unit is a unit of officers on horseback who act as a liaison between University Police and campus.

The unit consists of two Clydesdale horses, Phoenix and Ember, and the two master officers who ride them, Jeanne Miller and Jason Wright.

Though Wright and Miller are trained to handle dangerous situations on horseback, the primary purpose of the mounted unit is community engagement. Miller said they often patrol around campus, attend football games, the state fair, the Special Olympics, parades and more.

Jeremy Soule, the special operations sergeant who oversees the mounted patrol, said one of the main reasons the mounted unit is so important is because of the outreach and community engagement they do for the police department.

“They're a crowd pleaser, for sure,” Soule said. “Everybody loves the horses, and everybody loves Jason and Jeanne. They're great. Not only are they police officers out there, but they blend in the police ambassadorship to the community, and they're just a great front for us.”

If a situation were to occur where Miller or Wright would need to intervene, Wright said they are trained to handle most situations from on top of the horse.

“We train to do everything from horseback,” Wright said. “So if we have to interact with somebody, we're doing it from the horse. If at all possible, we're not getting off. [It’s a] safety issue for us, and for the horse and for the people around us. We have more control over the horse while we're on their back to do things. For example, if it was a situation where we encountered a fight, we can break up a fight from horseback, we can handcuff from horseback, we can do a lot of different control techniques from horseback.”

The officers are trained with knowledge that has been passed down from previous mounted patrol officers. NC State’s mounted unit is also a part of the Carolinas Mountain Patrol Association and attends meetings once or twice a year for some training and skill reinforcement.

Miller said she grew up riding horses and worked in the Equine Educational Unit when she was an undergraduate at NC State. Wright decided to get involved with the mounted unit after getting on a horse for the first time one day when Miller was giving Wright’s daughter a horseback riding lesson. He then began taking lessons and applied and was accepted into the unit.

Miller has been a part of the mounted unit for eight years and Wright for seven. Soule said positions on the unit rarely open up because the bond between the horses and officers can’t easily be replaced.

“Once we find folks that have that skill set and then they get involved in the program, they know the animals, the animals know them,” Soule said. “It's the same with the canine unit, there's a little bonding there, that's not something that we just trade around every couple of years.”

According to Miller, the unit currently has two female horses: Phoenix, a five-year-old, and Ember, a three-and-a-half-year-old. Ember is currently in training and not quite ready to be ridden out around campus yet.

Though there are two horses and two riders, Wright and Miller said they work with both horses to ensure each officer has a good relationship with both.

“We have a very good relationship with both horses, which is important because if one of them is ill or can't go out that day, we need to be able to get on the other one and still have that same bond,” Wright said. “That horse still needs to know that it can trust whatever rider is on its back and vice versa.”

Soule added it’s not just the officers and horses that share a special bond.

“The horses bond with each other too,” Soule said. “Once we get them, they're like pals. They get to be attached, and they can even have a little separation anxiety if the other one is not there.”

According to Wright, he and Miller do all of the training of the horses when they get them from the breeder. They conduct sensitivity and sensory training by exposing the horses to sirens, loud noises and any other disruptions they might encounter in the field.

“We spent a lot of time looking for horses that had really good minds, really good temperaments because that's what we look at first,” Wright said. “If the horse has a good temperament, has a good mind, we can work with them as far as training and learning what they need to learn.”

Both officers said their favorite part of being on the unit is the community interaction and being able to make people smile.

“I get a real thrill out of seeing somebody turn around, and then all sudden, they just light up,” Wright said. “Their eyes get wide, [it] just kind of takes their breath away, and it brightens up their day. … That makes me feel good that we’re being a positive impact on people.”

Wright and Miller also like to have fun when out in public on the horses, often sneaking up on people and surprising them.

“[There will be] people walking down the street, staring at their phone, not listening, and we'll be walking right behind them, the horse is breathing down their neck, and they're still texting,” Miller said. “It takes them a minute, and then they’re like, ‘Ah!’ They think it's funny.”

Unlike the working dogs in the K9 unit, part of the horse’s job is to be petted and interacted with. Miller and Wright encourage students to come up to them if they see the officers on campus.

“When we’re out and about on campus, we encourage people to come up and talk to us and interact with the horses,” Wright said. “They like taking selfies; they like being loved on.”

News Editor

I am a third-year studying English with a minor in biology. I joined Technician in the fall of 2020 as a correspondent and am now working as the News Editor. I plan to graduate in the spring of 2022.