Eloise Mayhead, who competes talented Welsh section D Tircyln Sportsman in competitive dressage, has a job in the City of London Mounted Police where she has a working relationship with the horses and their riders who calmly patrol some of the busiest streets of the capital. Eloise describes what working for The City of London Police involves for her and for the unit’s horses.
A WHOLE new world of training horses and riders opened up for me when I took on the role of stable manager for the mounted branch of The City of London Police. City of London has eight operational horses plus one or two in training, which are known as “remounts”. We like to purchase large horses, usually over 17hh, and aged between five and 11. Police horses can work into their early twenties, so an 11-year-old is still relatively young. Draught or Shire crosses are favourite, but we currently have an Appaloosa, a Polish warm blood and a Clydesdale. The horses alternate between their working week of daily four-hour shifts walking the hard streets amid the clamour of the City and a week of relaxation at unit’s Bushey Park training facility, near Kingston-upon-Thames.
The training of the horses involves a lot of roadwork — progressively intensifying the busy-ness of the environment and levels of traffic. Remounts are always escorted by a trained horse. The horses need to learn to cope with different road surfaces, noises, sudden movements and crowd control. We use the term “high alert” when a horse becomes worried about a situation it is experiencing. Although that might happen at times we like to see him return to normal relaxed behaviour once he has gone passed the scare. If the horse stays on high alert we need to go back a step in his training and make the situations less intense then build them back up again.
Every Police horse has a quirk about what it doesn’t like. If it’s things around its feet, for example, we will do nuisance work in the school where we build different challenging scenarios like tennis balls rolling around its feet, or getting them to tread on plastic or boarding. A solid, experienced horse will be in attendance to give the remount confidence and horse nuts are used as a reward to make it a positive experience.
A lot of training is repetitive, punctuated by rewards. Our horses are also kept well schooled to ensure that the muscle over their backs is not lost, as on duty they spend most of their time walking the streets. They are also kept supple and handy with lateral work, as you need to be able to manoeuvre a horse at any moment and in any space — although I don’t think their half-passes would be Olympic standard!
Eloise marvels: “I came up through the BHS system then competed at both eventing and dressage but never imagined that one day I’d be hacking down the A308 for a living — or riding under the gherkin in the centre of London!”
In their working life, the horses have such a presence on the street that they are highly effective in bridging the gap between the Police and the public and frequently create an opportunity for friendly dialogue. People will happily come up to you and chat away, ask questions and generally show a sincere interest in you, your horse and your surroundings. Sadly, this is much rarer nowadays for the ordinary bobby on the beat. As a small unit we train the riding officers on a weekly basis, both on the flat and jumping. It’s important that they can handle a horse in trying situations while policing and staying safe. To become a mounted officer, the officer has to achieve a standard of approximately BHS stage 2 — this is no mean feat if you start as a mature non-rider.
There are three civilians in the unit, a BHSI, a BHSII and an ACPO intermediate instructor. It’s our job to keep the horses sound, happy and confident to do their job with their officers. I find it very satisfying that we are all very hands-on, even our sergeant, and that the horses, although “working horses”, are part of the family.
About the author:
Eloise Mayhead’s career with horses took her through the BHS system where she gained her BHSI and on to a variety of jobs. Initially her sport was eventing until by accident she was asked to bring a client’s horse back into work after injury and it proved to be rather good at dressage. Eloise competed the horse and achieved a number of regional and national titles. Immediately prior to joining the Police in 2012, Eloise had spent 18 years combining the roles of part-time lecturer at Merrist Wood College, Guildford, and freelance instructor.
Tirclyn Sportsman, 13, her advanced medium dressage partner, was bought by her sister-in-law from a Brightwells auction at Leominster. Eloise took over the reins when the sister fell off Sporty when he was four. She explained: “I hadn’t considered keeping him, but there was something unusual about the way he moved: he was just so supple through his joints and found the work incredibly easy.” Sporty has pulled in high marks at every level and has achieved a first and a second for his three national level appearances ridden by Rachel Taylor
Since Eloise resumed the ride she has competed the charismatic Welsh section D whenever her job and his fitness have allowed, achieving nearly 70% at advanced medium earlier this year (2016). It’s a sad fact, that health issues can loom large for owners of native breeds as well as those who have competition-bred warmbloods. Eloise has battled against Sporty’s occasional allergy-related skin conditions and laminitis.
But Eloise confirms: “Would I have another Welsh D? In a heartbeat! They offer so much and for a fraction of the price of dressage-bred horses. Sporty puts a smile on my face whenever he competes because no-one expects a Native to perform like he can!”
© Out and About Dressage Ltd, 17 June 2016