Molly Jean Thomson, a Madison Police Department employee for 19 years, was on the north side of Madison on patrol. Residents came out to greet her and mentioned that a neighbor, who wasn’t very mobile, would like to meet the patrol. Thomson agreed. The neighbors pointed to the house and Thomson went right up to the front door. “She came out,” Thomson said, “and met Bubba. It clearly made her very happy.”
Bubba is a horse. A Percheron/Clydesdale cross, he’s 21 years old and part of Madison’s Mounted Patrol Unit. He weighs nearly a ton and has “a goofy kid horsenality and love to play basketball.”
There are six horses in the unit:
- Doctor B
“Torres is my go-to partner,” Thomson said. Torres is a 17 year old Friesian. “He is a bit of a worry wart, but is very eager to partner with his human and get the job done.”
What do they do?
A horse’s job might seem like an antiquated notion for today’s police forces. There are no longer Wild West bandits outside the saloon that the local constable has to gallop to any longer, a cowboy hat perched proudly on their head.
Police horses, today, are primarily used for crowd management. Horses give officers a height advantage. “We are about 10 feet tall when up on our horses, so we can see for city blocks and notice changes in crowd behavior,” Thomson said, part of the mounted patrol the last eight years. “Additionally, this added height advantage makes it easier for the crowd to see us if they need assistance or if we need them to move.”
Mostly, though, for Thomson, the satisfaction in her job comes from when she’s on patrol and the community comes up to meet the horses, like Torres, whose official bio reads, “I love to be scratched on my forehead, but always ask my partner for permission first.”
When she rides through neighborhoods, 10 feet tall, neighbors come out to meet the horses, scratch their foreheads, and take their photos. When Thomson leaves, the neighbors gathered there continue to talk and share news, an important aspect of building community. “We didn’t do anything special other than just show up with our four-legged partners.”
How do they join the team?
Madison’s police horses live at The Horse First Farm in Brooklyn. They come from private sellers all over the region. The department has recently been focusing on their partnership with Asbury University in Lexington, Kentucky, which has a service horse training program.
Once purchased, the horses go through a rigorous training program. Thomson said, “We need them to deal with traffic, loud music, crowds, fireworks, gunfire, and so much more.”
The horses get their badges after a two-year probationary period.
Most of the funding for the mounted patrol comes from donations. The nonprofit, Friends of Madison Mounted Patrol, is responsible for purchasing horses, trucks, trailers, equipment, training, and more. “We could not exist if it weren’t for the efforts of the nonprofit and donations from the public,” Thomson said.
Would you like Bubba and Torres to visit your neighborhood? The Community Corral program runs April through November.
Would you like to help the Friends of Madison Mounted Patrol? Opportunities abound.
In the meantime, Thomson will be on her horse, meeting neighbors, and making friends.