Britain’s first provincial mounted police section has been celebrating its 130th anniversary this week.
Merseyside was the first force outside of London to establish a permanent mounted division back in 1886.
Yesterday (8 September), they marked the milestone with a public display, where some of the Merseyside Police mounted section’s 16 serving horses and 14 constables showed their training.
They took part in a range of simulated challenges including a crowd mimicking a protest with flags, a giant see-saw to train them to walk on difficult terrain, and a barrel full of stones to simulate noise.
The force has experienced significant changes since it was first formed to replace the inefficient hiring of horses from local “job masters”.
While six “animal welfare assistants” and one stable manager are now employed to take care of the equine charges, former mounted officer Phil Smith, 74, recalled a time when his duties were all-encompassing.
“Back then every officer had their own horse which you had to muck out and look after yourself. When I retired, my horse Olly retired too and I took him on as a pet right up until he came to the end of his days,” said Mr Smith, who left the force in 1994 after 12 years.
“The section underwent a period of modernisation while I was there. When I started, mounted officers would go out without a radio and the section was treated quite separately to the rest of the force, but now it is much more integrated.
“During my time we began to be called to any incidents in parks or on beaches which officers on foot couldn’t get to and we became a more active department in general policing, as well as policing football matches.”
Over the years, the section has helped police royal visits, 1966 World Cup matches, a civic reception for The Beatles and regular trophy processions by Everton and Liverpool football clubs.
In the early days of the force, when there were few telephones, their duties also included relaying urgent messages. They have also been used for transporting prisoners and in a transport strike in 1911, they were tasked with carrying food to a hungry local population.
The section’s modern duties still include crowd control and high-visibility patrols, including along the shoreline during the holiday season. Every year at Aintree they can also be seen escorting the victor of the Grand National to the winner’s enclosure.
Temporary sergeant Kit Yorke said: “The mounted section now helps police a range of events, including major sporting events, Armed Forces Day, Liverpool Pride, music festivals, the Grand National, community events and the visit of the Giants (a parade of huge puppets through the city).
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“Another important part of our job is patrolling the city centre on a Friday and Saturday night, keeping the public safe. Mounted officers can be deployed around Merseyside providing high-visibility patrols to areas that have been subject to serious incidents.”
Mounted police have increasingly become recognised as an approachable branch of the force, also making them a useful asset for community policing.
“Often residents will approach those officers on horseback and highlight community issues, meaning officers are able to feed back to patrols or partner agencies so they can tackle the problems,” Sgt Yorke added.