Visit Stockyards City on the weekend, and you may see Deputy Randy Garner with his 1,200-pound partner, Romeo.
For 16 years, Garner has worked for the Oklahoma County sheriff's mounted patrol division.
“It seemed like something fascinating to me to be able to give back to the public and do what I love to do, which is ride a horse,” said Garner, a section leader for the mounted patrol unit.
The unit is made up of more than 20 deputies, a mix of full-time and reserve officers.
Recently, the mounted patrol and deputies with the Fast Action Support Team trained together at State Fair Park.
During this training, the deputies practiced mounted formation riding, along with all-terrain vehicles, crowd control techniques and field search and recovery, said Capt. Paul Snyder, department supervisor for both the mounted patrol and the FAST team.
“We are always looking to upgrade and update the latest training that is out there,” Snyder said. “We do annual training every year, just to keep the officers and the horses up to speed.”
Snyder said the mounted patrol is ideal during crowd control and search-and-rescue situations because of the height advantage and for the horse's ability to maneuver through a crowd.
“Our training is year-round. It never stops,” Garner said. “The horses are used more as a deterrent. One mounted patrol officer on a horse is the equivalent of 10 officers on the ground.”
During annual training, the horses are put through tests and elevated stresses in order to ensure they are safe to be on the street.
“You can't create every obstacle or every event, but we can put them through certain amounts of elevated stress so we can see how they react under pressure. We put an extreme amount of pressure on the deputies, both two-legged and four-legged,” Garner said.
The Oklahoma County mounted patrol unit is one of two in the state — the other is in Tulsa County — and has been a part of the sheriff's office since the early 1980s, Sheriff John Whetsel said.
“It has been a staple in our operation for years,” Whetsel said. “We have a lot of use for our mounted. They come exceptionally handy.”
Most people see the deputies on horseback at Stockyards City, during the Oklahoma State Fair or at parades.
“We usually have the mounted out every week,” Whetsel said. “They oftentimes will be working on the weekends in the stockyards area. The stockyard businesses love to have the horses out there because of the nature of the area. Stockyards, horseback — I mean, they kind of go hand-in-hand. People are able to see a throwback in history with the mounted horses on patrol.”
It takes a very special horse to work in the mounted patrol unit, because the horses are around children for special events, Garner said.
“We have to have the ability to, one minute, be PR (public relations), where people are petting the horses and they are talking to the officers. Then, five minutes later, we need to go into a crowd control situation and have to disperse the crowd,” Garner said, “and then we have to go right back to PR with people petting the horses again.”
Owning a horse and being a deputy for the sheriff's department aren't the only requirements for being a part of the mounted patrol.
“It's a big responsibility when you walk into a crowd of thousands of people with a 1,200-pound animal,” Garner said. “It's like I said, sometimes the horses don't meet the requirements, and sometimes for the deputies, it's hard for them, too.”
Because the deputies own the horses, the expense for the sheriff's office is minimal.
“It's all on their dollar,” Whetsel said.
The sheriff's office provides equipment, such as saddle blankets and protective gear, but the vast majority of the cost falls upon the reserve deputies.
“These are dedicated citizens,” Whetsel said.