Features & Stories
Animal Magnetism - The Kamloops Mounted Patrol

Story and photos by Trudy Frisk

Kamloops Mounted Patrol Nov 11, 2006
It happens every time.  After riding around the perimeter of the crowd listening to Music In The Park, the Kamloops Mounted Patrol forms up at one side.  Immediately, as if drawn by magnets, people of all ages begin strolling towards the line of horses.  Within minutes toddlers are staring up in awe, babies and their grandparents are patting horses' noses and adults are talking with riders about their mounts.  People seem determined to get as close as they can to these fascinating animals. Horses and riders remain calm and patient, accepting the admiration.

The Kamloops Mounted Patrol was established in 1992 as a community service organization attending public events.  In 2006 it made one hundred and forty appearances. Wherever the Patrol goes, from the Farmer's Market to the Rocky Mountaineer train, it receives the same enthusiastic response.

Rick Wanless, founder and director of the Patrol, sees it as something that makes Kamloops unique.  For both residents and visitors the Mounted Patrol provides a link to Kamloops' western heritage.  It promotes pride in our history and community.

All summer long, at festivals, business openings, and conventions, the Patrol meets hundreds of people who comment that they never realized Kamloops had so much to offer.

Being ambassadors at so many different venues, each with its own mix of noise and distraction requires that both horses and riders have certain skills and abilities, especially the ability to remain calm and in control under very unexpected circumstances. This skill isn't so essential in other forms of horsemanship where people aren't encouraged to go right up to the horses.  With the Kamloops Mounted Patrol anything can happen.

For example, the skateboarder on the Interior Savings Center plaza, who, still on his skateboard, rode right underneath the two leading horses.  "The horses simply raised their bellies", Rick remembers.

"Getting to Know You."
Or the time the team saw a young woman, obviously upset, running across Riverside Park towards them.  When they realized the woman's toddler was hanging on to a horses' hind leg, they spoke quietly to her, she stopped running and gently removed the child from the horse with no harm done.  Because the riders didn't panic, the horses decided there was no threat.

Training horses for such unexpected occurrences takes patience and a thorough knowledge of equine instincts and personalities.  "Horses", says Rick Wanless, are really just like thousand pound two year old kids.  The challenge is to train the horses to take in a situation and not be frightened, to condition them to the unpredictable.  They can get used to a Harley-Davidson starting up beside them but a strange whistle can spook them.  They have to get used to balloons, umbrellas, strollers."

In Rick's opinion "There's no such thing as a bomb-proof horse.  People who believe that just haven't found the right bomb. Horses are not really intelligent.  They were a prey species. Predators are always more intelligent than their prey because they have to plan.  The prey, horses, ran in a herd, keeping an eye on the herd leader for warnings of danger. They are constantly alert, that's how they survived. Domestic horses haven't lost that instinct. In the park, Patrol horses will spot somebody in the bushes when the riders might not notice.  A horses' response to danger, if threatened or startled is to run from it, to get out of there. You have to spend a lot of time with the horses to convince them not to immediately react to that instinct."

Preventing incidents is paramount.  Trainers work long hours with their horses to convince them to take people in stride. A lot depends on the horse.  Last year a new horse joined the Patrol and after the first or second time he was very calm with what was going on.

All the Patrol horses are geldings.  "Geldings", says Rick, "have much more level dispositions and are more bland about who they're paired with.  They're not as likely to put their ears back and snap at the horse next door. "
Horses are very aware of what's going on around them.  They're inclined to trust the other horses.  A horse alone might be upset by something, but if the other horses aren't worried, it'll remain calm.   When the Patrol rides, they're always in pairs, and the horses are close to each other.  There's less territory on the back and side for both horse and rider to watch. It also keeps people from coming up between the horses.

Horses, like humans, have their buddies.  As much as possible the Patrol makes sure the buddies work together.

Requirements for Mounted Patrol riders are different from those for other equine events.  The Patrol is not a competition.  They don't do distance rides. "  Just sitting on your horse for long periods of time is challenging.", explains  Rick. "People with rich horse backgrounds find that isn't what they do."

Experience isn't everything.  In 2006 three people who had no riding experience did very well. The horses help.  "Some of the horses have twelve to fifteen year's experience.  They've been there and done that.  The horses know the way the Patrol does it.  Somebody with a lot of riding experience might want to do it his way.", Rick continues.

The problem for a novice rider may be trusting the horse too much. As Rick puts it, "Brownie  expects his rider to occupy the position of authority.  He or she can't just pat Brownie and give him some oats and think if you're nice to Brownie, he'll do what you want.  The rider has to get Brownie's respect.  If not, Brownie will be in charge."

When it all works out, riders get a lot of pleasure from their horses.

Riders are generally people from twenty to forty years old, who are physically fit and like horses.  They are expected to buy their basic uniforms, bridle and saddle.  Horses are available, and each rider is assigned a horse.  Membership costs $200.00. If the rider provides a commitment of time $100.00 is refunded.  The Rocky Mountaineer covers half the cost of the Patrol.  Grants from the city of Kamloops, memberships and donations pay for the rest.  The activity isn't expensive, Rick states, but it is demanding of time. There is stringent training to prevent or minimize accidents.  Riders must be ready to work hard with their group. They have to be prepared to meet the community, provide assistance to travelers, and present the Kamloops heritage to visitors from countries where horses are not part of the culture.  "With all the new technology," Rick says, "it's gratifying to have someone take a photo and know that somewhere in Shanghai or Beijing, somebody's getting an instant picture of a Kamloops institution.

There's one more duty.  When a horse goes, his rider cleans up after him.  Just part of the public relations.

"New Friends."
People who meet the horses obviously like them.  The Kamloops Mounted Patrol performs a tourism function, giving visitors help and advice, but many of the public see the Patrol as much more, as a security function; as somebody they can go to and somebody they can count on.  "We've had everything from lost kids to lost wallets turned into us." Rick comments.  Even the RCMP bicycle patrol admits, that, in the Park, they can't compete with the horses when it comes to public trust.  As Rick points out, "Police and authority figures these days are almost always in hard conveyances which don't allow for a soft approach.  People come up to us who don't like authority, but like the horses. "  The fact that the horses are quiet and controlled enhances that trust.

As Rick sums it up, "Horses are more strange, more weird and more unusual to the average person today than animals you see in a zoo.  We have a Wildlife Park where kids can see tigers and wolves, but they don't see horses."

The Kamloops Mounted Patrol is doing its best to change that.   

Other articles by Trudy Frisk

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