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Rescued Horses Find Second Life Behind A Badge

deputyhorsesoneJohn Hargraves has always had a love for horses, finding a way to work them into his career as a deputy sheriff. The 30-year veteran of the department, who runs the Mounted Enforcement Detail for the Sheriff’s Parks Bureau, recently took on another critical role: that of horse rescuer.

With his current steed advancing in years, Hargraves realized that he’d need another horse to replace him for patrol duties.


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His search resulted in a new life for two equine residents of shelters in Castaic and Lancaster. Working with the county’s Animal Care and Control Equine Response Team, Hargraves learned that several horses had been seized by Animal Control officers in recent months because they were being starved.

deputyhorsestwoIn Castaic, he found a Palomino gelding that responded to cues and seemed eager to please. In Lancaster, Hargraves found a thoroughbred mare, a former race horse that also responded to cues to walk, trot, back and turn on her front and hind legs.

“These two horses have been well trained, are trusting, and willing to obey cues,” he said. “How someone could leave them to slowly starve to death is beyond comprehension.”
This isn’t the first time that rescued animals have turned their lives into one of public service. Hargraves said that the cities of Carson and Los Angeles have rescued horses for their mounted patrol.

“They’ll send people out to various places to people who want to get rid of their animals, most of the time because they can’t afford them,” he said. “LAPD will basically short stop it before they leave the animal to starve to death and make bids on the animals to buy them directly from the people who can’t keep them anymore.”

The horses will require some basic training, which Hargraves will do with a trainer in Acton, working on basic cues, making sure leg and rein cues are correct and that the horses respond appropriately. After that, they go through 80 hours of what he referred to as “nonenforcement training” that desensitizes the horses to a lot of alarming situations.

“They don’t react so much if a firecracker goes off next to them or a plastic bag blows by, or someone acts goofy around them, the horse won’t freak out on that,” he explained. “They go through a series of tests after that, and if they pass all those tests, the horses are actually deputized and we use them as an enforcement animal.”

An assault on a deputized horse, like an assault on a human deputy, carries unique additional criminal penalties.

Once deputized, the equine enforcers will undergo monthly testing and complete five check-off rides that helps both the person in and the horse under the saddle.

“They make sure both us and the animals are acting properly depending on the circumstances presented to us.”

There are about 30 riders who perform mounted patrol duty for the Sheriff’s Department, all are full-time deputies or Level One Reserve Officers that do mounted patrol as “collateral.”  As the Sergeant overseeing the Mounted Enforcement Detail, Hargraves has four full time deputies working with him, with their headquarters at the Parks Bureau in Hollywood.

Hargraves is looking forward to working with his new horses, adding that each member of the mounted patrol owns and cares for their own horse.

“The goal is to prove that you don't need to have an expensive horse to be on the Mounted Enforcement Detail, just one that is sound, calm, and willing to learn and trust you,” he said.
For more on the Sheriff's Mounted Enforcement Detail (MED) and sheriff's equestrian patrols, including photos in city and rural areas, visit the LASD website at http://www.lasd.org