By DIANE R. CHODAN
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Princess, Doug Newton's mount, and Simba, Wendy Kendall's horse, happily frolic in a pasture during their off-duty time. When they are on duty, however, both animals know they are work horses and respond accordingly. The horses and their riders are part of the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Mounted Division, which has been in service since 1950. Currently, the division has about 10 active members.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
Wendy Kendall gives a treat to her horse Simba and talks to him as Doug Newton watches. Both Newton and Kendall have developed a partnership with their horses and enjoy their work with the Chautauqua County Mounted Division.
The general public most often sees mounted officers heading up parades or directing traffic at the Chautauqua County Fair. Children's faces often break into smiles when the officers let them pet the working horses and take time to answer questions. Adults marvel at the ease with which an officer sits a horse while using both hands to direct traffic.
The volunteer unit is on-call to the Chautauqua County Sheriff and may assist in traffic or parking details, search and rescue, security and crowd control, police escorts, or public relations duties.
"They are a tremendous asset to the county and highly trained," Sheriff Joseph Gerace said. "I can't say enough about the commitment and dedication of the men and women who do this."
These officers are volunteers who make a large commitment of time. Beside the time spent on duty, they undergo rigorous training.
A new horse and rider has to successfully complete a 48-hour course. In addition, the rider has to complete a course to become a state certified police officer. This course has been an 80-hour course, but is now increasing to 200 hours for new members. The officers are qualified to carry unconcealed weapons. The officers have to requalify with their weapons periodically.
Wendy Kendall, who has been part of the division for eight years and is already trained, is taking the 200-hour course with other new police officers. While noting it is a lot of work, she is enjoying the challenge.
Longtime mounted officer Doug Newton explained about additional refresher training. "We meet once a month for one to two hours. We take refresher courses in the winter," he said. For example, the division has had a review of penal code concerning use of force, how to handcuff, and pressure points.
Newton and four other members of the division are also certified by the Department of Environmental Conservation for search and rescue. The class is conducted on state land with fire department personnel and includes a search for evidence. He said that DEC trainers were impressed with how much evidence the horses and riders turned up.
Newton said, "The horses are in their element. Riding a horse gives an enhanced field of vision. The animals sense objects and have a well-developed sense of smell and hearing." He explained his horse can sense when someone is near.
VOLUNTEERING FOR A TIME-CONSUMING JOB
The individual members bear the expense of participation in the division. Their Association, which includes active officers as well as retired members who are now social members, does have a treasury and does receive compensation from entities, such as the Chautauqua Fair Board, that use its services. The members can decide to expend funds from the treasury for items related to their mission, but are responsible for the expenses of caring for their horses' equipment, and transportation to duty sites.
Kendall, who has been a member of the division for about eight years, explained "I want law enforcement to be put in a positive light."
Her father, Ken Troidl, is a retired senior investigator from the New York State Police. He and her mother live in Amherst. Her brother, Dan Troidl, is a captain with the Vermont State Police. Her late husband, John Kendall, was a retired sergeant from the Fredonia Police Department (1988-2007) and served on the Mounted Division with the Sheriff's department from 1991 through 2007.
"I always enjoyed riding and think the job of mounted police officer is the best law enforcement position, " Newton said. "I saw the horse I like working with. For me, it's an excuse to ride. I might not ride if I didn't make the commitment."
Newton has extensive experience in crowd control. During 2001 and 2002, he worked at Watkins Glen ten hours a day during the NASCAR racing there. Crowds were around 300,000 people daily.
"That was best training for my horse. She bonded to me during this time. She even tried to follow me into the bathroom," he laughed.
Newton knows his job when it comes to crowd control.
"The mission is to enhance, aid, and protect the regular duty officers," he said.
He has broken up fights at campsites and elsewhere.
"The job there is to disperse, identify and isolate," he said.
Up on Princess' back he can get a better view of a crowd than an officer on the ground can. He can see a situation developing and pick out the agitators.
"Usually they (agitators) are not directly involved in the fight, but on the perimeter encouraging it," he said.
When he rides through the crowd to isolate the agitators, sometimes the people involved forget about the fight and are interested in the horse. "It can change the whole attitude," he said.
WELL-SUITED FOR WORK
Many horses in the division are cross-bred rather than purebred.
"Kind of how mutts are often the best dogs," Newton offered.
Kendall couldn't offer clear guidelines for choosing a good horse. An experienced rider who likes animals, she just knows when the horse is right. When she wanted to purchase a horse, she looked at a number of horses. Simba was one and a half when she first got him. He was the first she looked at.
"I loved his personality," she said.
Although she looked at other horses, she came back to him.
They seem to trust each other, and Kendall knows he is solid in crowd situations. Yet he doesn't behave for her step-daughter, Jennifer Miller.
"She prefers to ride our Arabian, as Simba does not listen well to people other than me, although he is so awesome for me doing mounted work," said Kendall.
Newton says the size and personality of the horse are important. While some people might be afraid of big horses, he said, "Often the bigger horses are the best. It's like the horse knows he doesn't have anything to prove. The little ones are the ones that often nip and bite."
Simba and Princess often work together, and the two horses are transported in Newton's trailer.
"Simba is happy to get in the trailer with Princess," said Kendall "And Princess knows she is in charge. She tolerates him."
Enthusiastic about horses, knowledgable about law enforcement, and dedicated to service, the officers of the Chautauqua County Sheriff's division are, as Sheriff Gerace said, "incredible." So are their working horses.
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