A horse with a fan club? It’s not such a far-fetched idea. When the Minneapolis Police Mounted Patrol retired their much-loved horse, Oliver, in February, found a new home in rural St. Cloud. There, he was not only cared for, but he also stepped into a new role with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Mounted Patrol (SCSMP).
Ollie’s days and nights might be somewhat quieter than those he spent in downtown Minneapolis, but when the SCSMP meets for training, or when the unit is on duty, he is ready to go.
The SCSMP is a group of volunteers whose primary purpose is to assist the sheriff’s office with search and rescue, evidence searches, mock disaster drills, event security and parking and crowd control. Members provide their own horse and trailer, and they train monthly in order to be prepared for active duty. John Greer, of Albany, is the captain of the unit. “We meet each month, twice monthly in the summer,” Greer said, “at locations all over the county to train our horses, do basic drills and conduct practice searches.” In a practice search, the members work on formation riding as they search for objects that have been previously hidden. The advantages of patrolling on horseback is improved mobility in crowds, the ability to cross challenging terrain, and a higher vantage points for viewing an area.
This group of dedicated volunteers began in 1992. Arnie and Cheryl Veldkamp, of Paynesville, are the only two of the original SCSMP members left in the unit. When asked if they have seen big changes in the organization since its beginning, they both shook their heads. “Not really.”
The SCSMP currently has 22 active riding members, one new member on probationary status and four ground support members. The ground support members keep track of equipment, manage horses and operate the radio. “We have picked up a few new members this past year,” Greer said, adding that they could use more members. “Some get busy with their families, and they have to quit. But some leave, and they come back later.”
Members are certified and trained in CPR and first aid. “We also receive training on how to preserve evidence each year,” Greer said. “If we were on a ‘call-out’ and found something, we would call in our location and get permission before we could touch the evidence.” The Stearns County Sheriff’s Department has a liaison officer, Kelly Sims, who works with the unit. Sims, a horse lover, has had the position for three years. “I attend most of the meetings,” she said. “We have a good group here.” If the unit’s help is needed, the captain receives a “call-out,” and the members have a couple of hours to get organized and get to the site.
In addition to the captain, the SCSMP has other elected positions, including a sergeant, in charge of training, a lieutenant, in charge of certifications, and a quartermaster, who keeps track of equipment.
The SCSMP will be on patrol throughout Pioneer Days in Albany, Sept. 12-14. They patrol the streets and keep the community safe while festival-goers enjoy everything from the log-sawing contest to the railroad and lumber mill exhibits to the tractor parade. “We help with security every year, until 5 a.m.,” said Greer. The unit also helped with parking at Breakfast on the Farm, a huge event held June 7 at Funk’s Midway Dairy, near Melrose. Thousands of people attend the annual educational event for breakfast and a tour of the dairy farm.
The SCSMP participates in several parades and the Stearns County Fair each summer. When the unit does training, they often partner with other organizations, such as fire departments, to conduct practice ground searches.
Deb Feldewerd, of Melrose, and her husband, Jim, have been members of the Mounted Patrol four or five years. “I like to volunteer,” Feldewerd said, “and when I learned about this, I knew it’s what I wanted to do. I’ve learned a lot, and all the training has made my horse less ‘jumpy.’” One of the greatest benefits to being members of the SCSMP, she realized, was being able to ride their horses more.
Individuals interested in volunteering with SCSMP must complete an application and a background check. They must also demonstrate their skill at working with their horse by passing a certification test. This test involves basic maneuvering and demonstrates both the rider’s skill and the manageability of the horse. Horse and rider need to pass the test to certify they are able to safely participate in the unit.
The rider leads the horse into the arena, performs a tack check, cues the horse to pick up all four feet, covers the horse’s eyes with a blanket, covers the body with a blanket, mounts the horse and backs up three steps. Next, they weave through cones, carry rocks to a barrel, pick up a rope and rub it on the horse’s body, drop the rope on a barrel, walk through two barrels and back through poles. Finally, the horse walks over a tarp and a bridge, then trots, canters and stops.
The horse and rider teams need to be recertified every three years.
All horses in the Mounted Patrol need annual vaccinations and a current negative Coggins test for equine infectious anemia, also called swamp fever.
Becoming a member of the SCSMP is not a volunteer opportunity for just anyone. But, for individuals who love riding horses and also want to serve their community, this group could provide the right fit. For more information, contact Kelly Sims at Kelly.Sims@co.stearns.mn.us.