YH Stacey spent the day with police horses in central London – and came back with a tip or two for riding on the road
If you spend every day, twice a day, riding through the streets of one of the busiest areas of London, you pick up a thing or two about riding in heavy traffic. To help you with road-riding issues, the London City Police’s Mounted Unit took us out on patrol to show us how to own the roads
PICTURE THE FOLLOWING: you’re out hacking and you stop your horse at a set of traffic lights. A double-decker bus pulls up behind you, then a cyclist whizzes past, clipping your stirrup. Just when you think your situation can’t get any worse, a cement lorry pulls up in the lane next to you. A busy area is every hacker’s worst nightmare and while you may not be able to foresee your horse’s reaction, you can help him accept the situation. And that, say the experts at the Mounted Branch of the London City Police, is key when it comes to riding on the roads. “Recently we had to cordon off the underneath of West Ham railway bridge, but my horse Beau struggled to stand still,” says Kim, who has been part of the London City Branch for 11 years. “The bridge was low and the noise of the trains was horrendous. I had to focus and find a way to make her comfortable. She didn’t like standing at the end of the bridge by herself so I had to compromise and put her in the middle beside the Metropolitan Police horses. It worked. She coped.” A horse who copes when ridden out and about isn’t the same as a horse who doesn’t react. He can lower his head, sniff and even tense up if he spots a ghost in a bush, but what’s crucial is that he doesn’t take what the London City Mounted Branch call ‘an exit attitude’ to, say, a Tesco bag stuck in the hedge. “Police horses are still horses at the end of the day,” explains Ian, who has been part of the Mounted Branch for 14 years. “We want to keep our horses as confident as possible, so it’s always a work in progress – even out on patrol.” We tailed the police on London streets to discover how they cope with extreme road riding, and what we can learn from them when dealing with certain situations while hacking on roads.
Operating from their base on Wood’s Street, the City of London’s Mounted Branch ride round the square mile of London