Mounted police officers are often thought of as part of unruly mob scenes, the horses and mounted positions used to create order in chaos.
But at the North American Police Equestrian Championships, held this weekend in Gaithersburg, those same horses used for crowd control are instead performing the intricate horse dancing known as dressage and navigating obstacle courses. Approximately 130 police officers from several states and as far away as Toronto, Ontario, participate in the two days of events, according to Ellie Trueman, sponsorship director for the event.
“It’s the one and only event they have to test their skills,” she said.
The event is held each year in a different city in North America, she said. The Montgomery County Agricultural Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, the site of this year’s event, also played host in 2007. The event is sponsored by the Maryland National Capital Park Police Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Divisions and the United States Park Police, Truman said.
This year’s competition also included a families and horses day on Sunday, which had several interactive activities for children, she said.
In addition to competing against one another, officers also had an opportunity to discuss police techniques.
“They come from all over the United States and can compare notes,” she said. “It’s a pretty unique gathering. They can really work on their horses and skills.”
Trueman said her favorite part of the weekend is watching the police officers from so many varied organizations and locations get together.
“The camaraderie — it’s one of the few times these mounted police get to work close together and compare notes,” she said. “They work year-round with these big animals and it’s a chance for them to be recognized for their skills.”
One of those officers who was showing off his skills was Officer Marc Fanelli, with the Maryland National Capital Park Police, Montgomery County division, who was riding his horse Ricky in the novice equitation class. The event requires several dressage techniques, and riders are graded on their horse’s abilities and their riding skills, Fanelli said.
“Equitation builds trust between the rider and the horse,” he said.
Fanelli said he’s been in three competitions with Ricky, and has been riding for five years. But his favorite part of the competitions isn’t the possibility of awards, but rather meeting officers from around the country.
“This weekend, it’s a lot of camaraderie with a lot of other agencies from around the country, and North America,” he said. “...The biggest thing is how they train. We got to learn from an instructor from Canada and share techniques. We learn from them and they learn from us. It’s a combining of efforts.”