Officer Robert Hartnett and his horse Sparky have been a team on the National Mall’s Horse-Mounted Unit for the past six years. Hartnett worked in the DCPD and, without any prior horse experience, added his name to a long waiting list in hopes of becoming an officer in the mounted patrol unit. Hartnett was chosen and after an intensive 10 week course on law enforcement with horses, he was ready to ride.
The Horse-Mounted Unit was established in 1934 as part of the United States Park Police. They have since expanded to a full service unit which includes 24 horses. On a typical day three to six horses and officers patrol the grounds of the Capitol and the entirety of the National Mall. More horses are called in during large events or protests to manage the crowd.
“We are able to part a sea of protesters without hitting, stepping on or even touching a single person,” says Hartnett. “That’s the beauty of the horse.”
While the Mounted Unit’s main purpose is crowd control and quelling disturbances, horses trotting around the National Mall is a sight to see in itself. The horses also serve as an attractive unit for display in parades and one can often find a small group of horses near the Lincoln Memorial being petted by excited tourists.
“People often come up and say hello to the horse rather than to us,” says Hartnett. “In all my years of being in a patrol car, nobody ever came up to me just to say hello. Now it happens every day.”