Manatee County Sheriff's Office trains new horses on quiet Lakewood Main Street.
| 6:40 a.m. April 23, 2020
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies Zach Bradley and Kevin Vreeland were out for a ride at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch.
Usually when members of the Mounted Patrol Unit are out and about, it is to control crowds. That hasn't been needed since COVID-19 has kept everyone at home.
The pair was out April 14 training a new horse, Jaxon, a 5-year-old Belgian cross. A woman in Pinellas County had rescued him from a slaughterhouse, but could no longer to care for him. Thankfully, he’s proven to have the right attitude for a police work.
“We don’t care what they look like, as long as they’ve got the right mind, they’re not reactive and they’re willing to learn,” said Vreeland, who was riding a 4-year unit member, Gunny.
Bradley was riding Jaxon, who joined the team in August and is being trained to begin full duties by September.
A second new horse, Benny, was “badged” in November, but is undergoing additional training, Vreeland said. Benny is an unlikely selection because of his rodeo bronco background, but Vreeland said Benny has the right mindset for the job.
Vreeland said training for all Sheriff’s Office horses is ongoing.
“We do a lot of desensitizing and getting them used to a working environment,” Vreeland said.
Vreeland said they’ve used Main Street as a training area twice in two weeks. Although training horses in crowds is preferable, the quieter streets are especially good for newer horses, like Jaxon.
While out, horses practice going up stairs, over curbs and grates, through water and across railroad tracks. Those obstacles look differently to a horse than to a human. Jaxon, for example, had never been in water, so he was introduced to it at the beach, where his rider would have soft sand to fall on should Jaxon get startled and throw him off.
Horses also are trained to work together to “squeeze” a subject who is running away. They close in on the individual, so he or she is wedged between the horses and stopped.
Vreeland said the time required for training horses for patrol work varies by the horse. Plus, not all horses are well suited for the task — six trial horses have been sent back since January.
Vreeland said two horses on the unit — Beau and Dallas — are slated to retire soon. The addition of Jaxon and Benny primarily is to replace them. However, the unit hopes to add more horses, so there are six to eight on a team that historically has had about five.
“We just have to find the right horses,” Vreeland said.