All eyes will be on the Churchill Downs racetrack Saturday for “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” but horses will be trotting outside the track, too.
The Louisville Metro Police Department’s Mounted Patrol unit will be monitoring crowds at this year’s Derby, riding larger-than-life horses through crowds and streets. One of those officers is Justin Hardy, who’s been with LMPD’s mounted unit since 2010 and trains new mounted officers how to ride.
Hardy said there are many benefits to riding the horses, like being elevated above crowds to handle situations.
“One officer with a rider is equivalent to 10 officers on the ground for crowd control because of their size and the intimidation factor,” Hardy said.
But training the animals — and the officers — can be a struggle. Horses, Hardy said, are naturally preyed upon in the wild and therefore scared by a lot of things. His eight-year-old horse Radar shows that sometimes, remaining calm around dump trucks but becoming scared from a bird flying nearby.
“We train them to handle all of the events out on the street: the traffic, the construction sites, the loud banging, the noises, all of that,” Hardy said. “It’s always a challenge because the horses – they have their own mind. And people have their own minds as well, so you’ve kind of got to join them together to complete the task and the mission.”
Radar and officer Hardy will be up early on Derby Day to patrol Churchill Downs and monitor the crowds. Its Radar’s fourth time working the Derby, and Hardy said people should feel free to ask mounted officers questions.