Britain’s unsung equine heroes: Bumble — ‘I was almost in tears that day seeing what he was coping with so bravely’

Every day, our horses work for us tirelessly, teaching riding skills, providing therapy and promoting equestrianism. Next in our unsung hero series, Sara Walker meets Mr. Bumble, a member of the Great Manchester Police Mounted Unit

In this modern day and age, using horses for crowd control may seem an anachronism but the members of Greater Manchester Police’s Mounted Unit are still patrolling every day, keeping the streets safe, policing football matches and providing an engaging presence in the city.

“All our horses here are named after Charles Dickens characters,” says PC Cassie Barratt. “Bumble is a 17.1hh chestnut named after the beadle from Oliver Twist. He’s 14 now and he’s been with the unit nine years, coming to us from a private home and is now an important member of the team.”

Like all the 16 horses at the unit (there’s capacity for 20, but recent retirements have caused a temporary dip in numbers and the unit are currently recruiting), Bumble (pictured top, far left at an anti-extremism demo in Manchester) has to be able to turn his hoof to anything.

“Our horses come to us on a six-week trial,” explains Cassie. “If we think they can cope with the job, then they’ll stay in training for six months to two years, teamed with a trainer and just one intermediate level rider, before moving on to general work. Our training includes walking over tarpaulins, getting the horses used to having flags draped over their heads and hearing music, drums, shouting and football clackers while working. Our horses work in the city centre and deal with a lot of football crowds, so they have to be brave and confident with heavy traffic, HGVs and lots of people. Once they’ve completed their training, they’ll be teamed with one standard level rider. Other riders are also able to ride each horse, but we try to limit the number of changes. This helps maintain the confidence of the horse and allows horse and rider to form a bond.

Bumble (right) at the free One Love concert put on after the Manchester arena bombing, with PC Cassie Barratt riding him

“Bumble is unusual as he’s one of only three horses that we teach trainees on,” says Cassie. “When we first got him, he learnt very quickly and he’s one of those horses who makes you feel safe, so he’s ideal for teaching.”

“Bumble is incredible, he’s so calm and brave,” says PC Kate Garside, who was Bumble’s first rider when he first came to the unit. I remember once riding him for a football parade from the city centre to Old Trafford, and the noise and smoke and flares going off were like a war zone. He didn’t turn a hair, and I was almost in tears that day seeing what he was coping with so bravely. He’s a proper sweetheart.”

Cassie agrees: “I’ve ridden him in a Manchester City football homecoming parade, with double decker buses and 70,000 people screaming their heads off. Someone let a paper cannon off, and he stayed so calm he actually steadied the other horse we were with. It’s the most intense thing you can ask a horse to do.”

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A typical day for Bumble might see him going out on patrol, being worked in the school or on the lunge.

“We have a horse walker, two outdoor and one indoor schools and four paddocks,” says Cassie. “All our horses get some time in the field every day, and two rest days every week or 10 days. We have the vet visit us every Monday, the farrier every Friday and the physio and dentist regularly, and our horses get tip top care.

“Bumble is very popular at the unit, and he’s such a character — you’ll often see him curling his top lip as though he’s having a private chuckle at something. For a horse that’s not frightened of clackers and flares, he actually doesn’t like the clippers — he’ll let you do it, but he’s not happy about it!

“Our police horses generally retire after about 10 years on the unit. If we get them when they’re about five that can mean they’re retiring early at 15 or so, but it’s a very intense way of life and we want them to retire while they’re still happy and healthy and able to enjoy their lives. Our retired horses generally go to the Horse Trust in Buckinghamshire, or if they’re on loan to the unit they may go back to their original owners. Their police riders can also apply to adopt them, as well.

“Bumble is such a star, we’re lucky to have him as part of the team, helping to keep the streets of Manchester safer. He’s the epitome of the perfect police horse.”

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