Lexington Mounted Police Prepare for NCAA Championships

The Lexington, Ky., Mounted Patrol unit is preparing for what could be a night of celebrations on the University of Kentucky (UK) campus after the school's men's basketball team competes in the NCAA National Championship game tonight (April 2), win or lose.

According to Lexington Mounted Police Officer Lisa Rakes, the city's four mounted officers and their equine partners--a team of specially trained Percheron/Thoroughbred crosses--will be patrolling the streets tonight, managing crowds and helping control potentially dangerous situations.

"We want to create a presence to prevent anything from getting out of hand," she explained. "Because of our height, we're able to see into the crowd to spot troublemakers and see problem areas. Most people will comply with the officer based on the sheer presence of the horse.

"Normally when we have to ask a crowd to move back it's all usually very peaceful," she continued. "Everybody complies. A lot of times we're not dealing with the alcohol-fueled problem that we had going on Saturday."

On Saturday night (March 31), the mounted unit patrolled the streets of Lexington as the UK team beat in-state rivals Louisville to advance to the NCAA Championship game. Rakes said that while most students and residents celebrated responsibly, one area quickly became a "hot spot" for destruction and violence.

"Out of all the celebrations going on throughout the city, all the spots were well-behaved--celebratory but non-violent--except for the spot on State Street," she relayed. "That just became progressively worse as the night went on to the point that the students were continually setting (couches and cars) on fire, and overturning cars. We had to move the crowd a few times, and all of our horses ended up taking hits with rocks and bottles and full cans of beer, which I felt really bad about."

Rakes explained that each police horse is outfitted with protective gear to prevent injury in violent situations. Each horse has a face shield (which protects their eyes) and a nose guard (which protects the bony structure that runs down the front of the face and to the nose). The patrol horses are also outfitted with knee guards, padded leg protectors, and bell boots to keep their lower legs safe from injury.

She also relayed that mounted patrol officers need to pay special attention to the ground their four-legged partners tread: "There's always the risk of them stepping on something (like) broken bottles or glass. And when they're burning items like the frames of couches, how many of them have nails or staples or sharp objects sticking up? Not only do we have to be aware of what the crowd is doing to us, we have to be aware of what's on the ground and what we're stepping on or over."

While none of the horses were injured in Saturday's patrol, Rakes noted that the mounted team will likely have do some additional desentizing, reassuring, and ground work with the horses after all is said and done: "We have to remind (the horses) that every time someone raises a hand to throw something, it's not necessarily going to be thrown at them."

Although she'll be focused on keeping the crowds safe, Rakes will be cheering on the hometown team in the National Championship game when UK takes on the University of Kansas tonight: "UK's come this far, so I'm going to have to root for them to go all the way."

Local police are reportedly already preparing for post-game gatherings, and Rakes said the mounted unit will be back as well: "We'll be ready to go again," she said.

About the Author

Erica Larson, News Editor

Erica Larson, News Editor, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in three-day eventing with her OTTB, Dorado, and enjoys photography in her spare time.

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