Together, they search through the woods during a training exercise. Officer Brian Stockhoff of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Unit and his horse look for a missing person.
“They’re a great advantage or great tool for law enforcement,” said Stockhoff. “They’re amazing animals.”
Stockhoff’s personal horse, Kianti, became his partner this past September after his previous horse passed away. Kianti trained for the job in October at a two-day de-spooking clinic in Freehold.
The National Mounted Police Services conducted the training. Director Bill Richey runs clinics around the world.
“The biggest part of my training with horses is to keep them from being afraid of what’s around in front of them, or around them or behind them. Horses are a prey animal and they tend to react to movement far more than a predator-type animal,” said Richey.
Richey uses things like foam noodles, extending the objects above and below their faces.
“I have obstacles that actually move as they touch them, they work like a turnstile, so to speak. I use everything from things that move over the top of their head, hanging tarps that are split, hanging tarps that are shredded,” said Richey.
During the clinics, the animals are exposed to loud noises, like sirens. They learn to become comfortable around moving police cars. Sensory obstacles are also part of the clinic. The horses walk through things like smoke and fire because initially the animals typically don’t think they can, says Richey. It gives them a sense of confidence.
“It builds that trust, too, with the rider and the horse. That way they know, OK, he’s telling me to go, OK, it’s safe to go. I can proceed forward and it’s not going to hurt me,” said Stockhoff.
The Ocean County Sheriff’s Office has had a mounted unit for the past four years.
“The main benefit is it’s a big height advantage compared to where you would be on walking patrol or in a car or any sort of vehicle. I’m about 6 feet tall, so on top of a horse, I’m about 10 feet tall, so I can see further. I can see at different and better angles,” said Stockhoff.
Stockhoff demonstrated this by looking for a bright yellow shirt in the woods. On foot, it couldn’t be seen hidden behind a tree trunk. But on horseback, it was visible from the same distance.
Aside from assisting law enforcement, Kianti is popular during parades and other public events, giving residents time to get to know not only the horse, but Stockhoff, too.
“It’s just amazing, the smiles on their faces. I’m happy the whole time whenever I’m working with him,” said Stockhoff.
Kianti will continue to train with his partner so he’s ready for his next job.