Beyond the Badge: St. Joe County Sheriff’s Posse train horses for spring

Beyond the Badge: St. Joe County Sheriff’s Posse train horses for spring

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ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. --- If you’ve ever been to the St. Joseph County 4-H Fair or a Notre Dame home game, you’ve probably seen officers on horses controlling crowds or just connecting with the community.

This week on Beyond the Badge, Michiana meets the group of reserve officers and their horses that make up the Sheriff’s Posse.

The St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Posse held their first big event of the year on Saturday, training to get the horses conditioned for major events they’ll attend in the community, like home games or search and rescues.

“The Mounted Division was created years ago by the Sheriff of St. Joseph County and it is an incorporation that's built underneath the police department for St. Joseph Police Department,” Sherriff’s Posse President Nicole Vanlandingham said. “And we're a nonprofit organization or incorporation of all reserve officers.”

Nicole has been the President for two years and with the posse for six.

“So, we have 15 members, that is part of our group and we're all reserve officers. So, we all have full time jobs out of donating our time to the community.”

Vice President Tom Fogarty said horses are a friendly animal and a great way to connect with the community.

“People come up, they want to pet your horse…a lot of people have never seen horses before in person,” Fogarty said. “So that helps get the community together and let them know that there are positive aspects of everything.” 

“We go out for the Sheriff's night out every year for the kids in the community to come and see the horses, ask us what we do and be able to meet us and then we also do events like our St. Joseph County 4H fair,” Vanlandingham said. “And we also are at the home Notre Dame games and that is for just doing crowd control and policing the grounds and we park cars.” 

The team also does search and rescues.

“If somebody's been missing for a while and they're having a hard time, they'll usually bring the canines out, the quads and then we usually get activated as a group and we can go out and do search and rescue as well,” Vanlandingham said.

Fogarty said you can cover a large area very quickly on a horse.

“With the horses you can cover a lot more ground than you can on foot. You can go through a lot more terrain than you can on foot.” 

The Sheriff’s Posse has been around for well over 25 years. The winter months are usually more relaxed for the team, unless the Sheriff calls them out or they’re in parades around the holidays.

“We always bring them out every spring to kind of get them conditioned and ready for our fair, which is the end of June into July, and to get ready for those Notre Dame fall football games to get them trained and ready to go,” Vanlandingham explained. “We work with the horses trying to condition them. We have an obstacle course that we're going to run through. We're going to run through different scenarios.”

Fogarty said that horses are a flight animal and when they get scared, they want to take off and run because it’s their natural instinct.

“When we're doing like this training today, what we're trying to do is desensitize them,” he said. “So, when they get in situations that are loud, lots of people and unfamiliar things. The horses don't try to take that flight, they will stand their ground. A lot of times, like at the Notre Dame games, when we get crowds that are unruly, we will take the horses in and just slowly escort the crowd to wherever they need to be, instead of causing a disturbance in a certain area.” 

“What's really nice about this unit is that these horses are our own personal horses” Vanlandingham said. “So not only are they with us when we're on duty, but they come home with us as well. So, we establish that relationship with us and that trust with them to be able to put them into different types of scenarios.”

“You're only as strong as your weakest link,” Fogarty explained. “The goal is is to work with the animal and build a trust and a bond issue between yourself and the animals, so the animal knows that you're not taking it into harm's way and it really helps bond you, the horse and the rider together. So, you become a proficient unit.”  

“Whether it be big crowds, or breaking up groups, or doing those search and rescues, or helping an ambulance get in for a medical call and being able to give back to the community with just serving and being able to do security,” Vanlandingham said. “It’s just really surreal and to be able to not only do that as a reserve officer, but to be doing do it with the animals that we love. We're here for helping and just giving back. To be able to give our time back to our community and to be able to help with different events and just to show that not only do we have officers in cars and in schools for the kids and things like that, but we also have a mounted division outside of the canine division as well.” 

“Like with any other police department, we're here to serve,” Fogarty said. “If there's a need, let's say like with a search and rescue, somebody comes missing and it's a large area, please give us a call. We'd be more than happy to come out and try to find your missing loved one. We're there to serve the communities. So anytime you see a police officer, it's not a negative. You know, come up talk to us. We'll let you pet the animals.”

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