FHP equestrian team prides itself on community outreach

Multi-county team aids in search and rescue and more


Trooper Kathy Brown laughs while Mr. Monster plays with a large ball while training at The Sawhorse Ranch on Friday, June 14, 2013 in Gainesville. The training gets the horses used to multiple situations.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 5:58 p.m.

For the Florida Highway Patrol troopers who spend their own time and money on the patrol's unofficial mounted equestrian unit, it really is all for the love of the horse.

The eight-horse team is not funded by the FHP, but troopers are allowed to wear their uniforms and use FHP emblazoned horse tack for approved functions, including community outreach events.

"We've had other demonstration devices at events, and nothing attracts the attention that the horses do. Everyone, especially the kids, goes straight for the horses," said Susan Barge, a corporal based in Ocala who helps organize the team's activities.

The team, made up of FHP officers from Marion, Alachua, Citrus and Lake counties, was formed to compete in the 2010 police olympics.

"What better place for the team to be based than in the horse capital of the world?" Barge said, referring to the title attached to Marion County because of the large concentration of horses and horse breeds in the area.

The unit has continued regular training at Sawhorse Ranch northwest of Gainesville, despite the slim chance it will ever be an official program of the patrol. The training sessions acclimate the horses to all manner of things they might encounter in a live situation, such walking over uneven ground, moving crowds or going through obstacles, such as one manifested on the ranch in a contraption called the "car wash."

Trooper Rick Brown, who owns the ranch with his wife Kathy, an auxiliary trooper and avid horsewoman, said the team takes its work seriously.

"The horses are certified police horses. It a lot of fun, but it's also work. We do search and rescue. I assisted in the search for that college student who was missing here in Gainesville last year. Anything we can do to help the community, we try to do," Brown said.

The team's greatest honor so far was being part of the ceremonial procession during the funeral of an FHP officer killed in Miami in 2010.

Trooper Kasi Farrell, who got her first horse when she was 3, jumped at the chance to join the team.

"I love it. As much as I enjoy it, I'd do it out of pocket even if the patrol never made it a full-time thing. The patrol has been very supportive," said Farrell, who was a past member of the Marion County Sheriff's Mounted Posse as a teenager and worked large events and helped in search and rescue.

Farrell said she enjoys the camaraderie during training, and competing with the FHP team.

"Exchanging stories and tips with other members of the team and from other agencies is great. You get to meet new people and share your passion," Farrell said.

Barge said she can't see the agency taking on the responsibility to house and feed horses for mostly ceremonial uses, but that the team members are committed to doing so.

"It's hard to see, but it's something I love and will continue to do as long as I can. It's understandable, there's a lot of liability and other issues. You can't use them in patrol. It's not like you're going to be out there on the highway sitting on a horse with a radar gun," she said. "Although, it would probably slow traffic down quite a bit."

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