A horse is a majestic animal. When ridden by a uniformed officer they always signify pomp and decorum. It is delightful to see the men of the Mounted Division trot in riding formation from their city stables at Pettah, riding two officers abreast. Some horses are chestnut in colour, some dapple grey and one pure white gelding like the mythical Greek horse Pegasus. Horses have been associated with the military and police for centuries.
In 1760, Sir John Fielding, a British Magistrate recommended the setting up of a Mounted Police unit to combat the threat of highwaymen in London. This was the birth of the Mounted Division in Police work, globally. The Royal Mews (stables) were subsequently set up in Charring Cross for the Queen’s horses.
The horse riding section of the Sri Lanka Police was established in 1921, the horses being allocated as official transport for the senior British Officers. A visit to the stables in Pettah is a refreshing experience. It is a haven in a busy metropolis. The Mounties are presently headed by ASP Bamunuarachci. The first building erected in 1920 still stands today, with its arched ceilings, where the administrative office is housed. A glass showcase displays the various kinds of horseshoes used over the years. In 1956, the section was given priority and one Sub Inspector was recruited along with two sergeants and 22 constables. Horses were imported from Australia. Presently, the horses on active duty are all warm blood animals from the Netherlands. The warm blood horse is obtained by breeding cold blood horses (Europe) and hot blood horses (Arabia). The Police stables operate in Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Police College, Kalutara. It is mandatory that all Officers on being promoted to the gazette rank of ASP be proficient in horse riding.
During the visit of Her Majesty the Queen in 1954 the Mounted Division had the honour of escorting her motorcade. During the visit of a Head of State the Mounties provide an escort with 24 horses. Every year at the Independence Day parade the gallant horsemen adorned in their white tunics, carrying a lance are a dazzling sight indeed.
Working horses have a life span of 25 to 30 years. Their height is measured by a unit known as “hands”— a hand being equal to 4 inches. Large horses usually stand at 15-17 hands. Horses require much grooming and attention especially with their feeding. As horses cannot vomit, if they develop digestion issues it can cause colic, a condition which can lead to death. The horses are fed thrice a day at 5am, 11am, 6 pm with a balanced mix of imported chaff, oats and barley. The well-stocked forage stores ensure that the animals receive the best nutrition. After being exercised at the paddock they receive a bath at 9am, every day. Police horses are sent on rotation for traffic duty in a team comprising eight riders. Having the largest eyes of any land mammal horses display excellent day and night vision.
ASP Bamunuarachchi explains that some of the horses are geldings, (horses that have been castrated) which make them more gentle and easy to control. The art of gelding is said to originate from the Scythians, an Iranian-Eurasian nomadic people who loved their horses. The use of the horseshoe, which is nailed or glued into the insensitive toe nail, is credited to the Romans.
Regular Police officers are absorbed in the equestrian section and undergo six months of training mastering the finer points of horsemanship, including stable management and veterinary care for their horses. All Mounties must obtain the certificate of excellence before being endorsed to ride in uniform. OIC of the Mounties, Inspector S.J.Kumarasiri tells me that the full leather saddles are imported and each horse has its own fitted saddle and bit, as wearing the wrong saddle can cause cuts and bruises to the animal. The Mounted division has a present strength of 46 horses and 53 Mounties, supplemented by a team of dedicated horse-keepers. These men work together as a motivated team and display a thorough understanding of their horses.