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Horses get patrol-style training at Four States Ag Expo

Deputy helps riders face fears in obstacle course

A group of horses and riders got to train like mounted police during this year’s Four States Ag Expo.

From Thursday to Saturday, Montezuma County Sheriff’s reserve deputy Ted Holland turned the horse barn at Montezuma County Fairgrounds into an obstacle course designed to help horses and riders confront their fears. Although it was Holland’s first time teaching at the Ag Expo, the workshops were modeled after the desensitization training he has given mounted patrol officers for more than 40 years. Some of his more recent students, Montezuma County Sheriff’s mounted patrol deputies, helped with the obstacle courses.

Students in the workshop started small, working with their horses on the ground before getting in the saddle to ride around the arena. Holland slowly added obstacles that could spook the animals, starting with one horse riding close to the others in the opposite direction. He and Montezuma County deputies Donnie Brown and Yvonne McClellan waved flags near the horses, moved plastic bags on the ground in front of them and created other obstacles. By the end of the weekend, riders were dodging balls and other moving objects thrown into the arena.

Holland’s training program was designed to help desensitize police horses to various startling stimuli, helping them remain calm in the field. But civilian horses can benefit from it, too, he said.

“Everyone wants a nice, calm horse, and that’s what police horses are,” he said.

Several of his students over the weekend seemed to agree. Susan Grabbe, an experienced rider and veterinarian at the Four Corners Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital, said the training had been helpful for her new trail horse, Blackjack. Grabbe has only owned Blackjack for two weeks, she said, and she wanted him to get used to unexpected obstacles they might encounter on the trail.

“You get out there, and ... there can be a bag blowing in a tree, or birds get up,” she said. “Only owning him for two weeks, I don’t know the horse well.”

Like several of the other horses, Blackjack occasionally shied at the obstacles, but Grabbe said she was able to calm him down and get back into the ring each time.

Holland said on Friday that his students were all doing well, especially considering he had just three days to teach them a course that usually takes months. He said he wasn’t sure any of the horses would be ready for the more intense challenges he gives patrol horses, like standing still next to a police siren, but he said they had done well with the easier ones.

Throughout the afternoon workshop on Friday, Holland spoke calmly to the riders, encouraging them to take a break if their horses were spooked, but urging them to get back in the ring to face the obstacle again if they could.

“The whole idea is to gain confidence for the horse, and for the rider too, which is even more important,” he said.

Holland was largely responsible for training the Montezuma County Sheriff Office’s new mounted patrol division, which is made up of three certified horses that have helped with patrols, searches and other operations since late last year.

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