“It’s all about training the officers to train their horse,” said Officer John Bagdovitz.
Bagdovitz, the first mounted patrol officer at SUNY Cobleskill — and in fact, the first mounted campus patrol officer in the SUNY system — was speaking about the college’s first Advanced Mounted Patrol Class, which took place early this summer.
Bagdovitz, as the Mounted Patrol Class Director, played a large part in planning the weeklong course, which was approved by NY State Dept. of Criminal Justice Services and was only open to Dept. of Criminal Justice Services Certified Police/Peace Officers, with their department’s approval.
To enroll in the class each officer was required to be an experienced rider and prove to have complete control of their horse. The class involved both individual training and group training.
“What’s different with mounted patrol training is that the officers are trained very heavily in things that happen out on the street that the average trail rider would not come into contact with, like honking horns, fireworks on the 4th of July or large crowds screaming at them,” Bagdovitz explained. “We try to load up the animals senses, whether it be sight, hearing or smell.”
Bagdovitz said the horses are exposed to fireworks, smoke bombs, sirens, whistles, and crowd drills. Starting pistols, which are fired both from the ground and from the horse’s back are also used in training. All of this is done in an effort to desensitize the horse to startling conditions and to build their trust in the officer that is riding them.
Participants in the class included Mounted Patrol from Ontario County Sheriff’s Dept. and DEC Forest Rangers, who were unable to be interviewed due to their departmental rules.
Officer Norman Schubert and his Percheron/Quarter Horse mount Reagan, who’ve teamed up to begin a mounted patrol at SUNY Delhi’s campus, were also in the class.
Schubert says in addition to all of the other aspects of the class, the relationship that he and Reagan shared was strengthened and reinforced.
“We built it a little stronger — now that he knows who the boss is!” Schubert laughed. “Previously he got away with a lot of things and I didn’t know enough to reel him in. But, now he listens to me because he knows that I’m the boss and he does what I want him to do. We’ve both learned a lot! He’s always been a gentle giant, but he knew that he could throw his weight around and intimidate people!”
Schubert said that one of the things he learned in the class was how to ease Reagan into a large, loud crowd and disperse it, as well as how to enter a large crowd and take an individual out that might be causing problems.
“The instructors nicknamed Reagan ‘The Rock’ because he was unflappable,” said Schubert. “He would not even flinch when firecrackers were thrown under him or flags waved in his face. During the drill when smoke was deployed he walked right into it and was a calming influence on the other horses. If he could not step over an obstacle he stepped on it. He was hit with objects and wasn’t fazed by any of it.”
“Reagan was the star of the mounted police class!” agrees Bagdovitz. “All of the instructors were very impressed with him!”
Schubert said he had been a SUNY police officer for over 20 years and had wanted to go on mounted patrol for a long time. “Chief DeFreece at SUNY Delhi gave me the opportunity to do this. When he found out about my interest in mounted patrol, he supported me,” said Schubert.
SUNY Delhi’s University Police Chief Perri DeFreece said having a Mounted Patrol would allow SUNY Delhi’s University Police Department to expand their educational outreach and law enforcement services.
“A mounted officer is much more approachable,” acknowledged DeFreece. “And I see the Mounted Patrol as a great way to increase communication with our students and campus visitors.” DeFreece said SUNY Delhi would also use their mounted patrol to provide demonstrations for schools and community organizations, showing how horses enhance law enforcement efforts.
“From a law enforcement perspective, the officer and his mount are a crime deterrent because of their increased visibility,” Chief DeFreece explained. “An officer on horseback can cover difficult terrain more quickly and easily compared to police officers in cars, on bicycles or on foot. Also, it has been shown that a mounted officer is as effective as 10-to-12 police officers on the ground at major events.”
In addition to campus patrol, Schubert and Reagan’s work assignments will include special campus events such as Orientation, Family Day, Open Houses and Commencement services.
Retired NY State Park Police Richard Pelzer was Lead Instructor for SUNY Cobleskill’s Advanced Mounted Patrol Class. He explained that a mounted patrol unit is a 2,000-pound police officer with speed and muscle. “But at the same time, most people relate positively to horses,” Peltzer acknowledged.