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Officer Amanda Martin and Orozco (left) and Officer Tim Edwards and Chisum on patrol in Edwin Warner Park.

Featured Article

The "First Pets" of Bellevue

How Bellevue-based Mounted Patrols Protect And Serve Nashville And Its Parks

Officially they’re public servants. But it’s understandable if frequent visitors to Warner or Red Caboose Parks think of them unofficially as Bellevue’s First Pets.

They’re the equine members of the Metro Nashville Police Department’s Horse Mounted Patrol Unit (founded in 1998) and the Metro Parks Mounted Patrol (founded in 1992). Though technically separate, the units work together routinely and are instantly recognizable fixtures at major events across the city. And, at least for the immediate future, both are stabled at the Percy Warner Park Equestrian Center on Old Hickory Boulevard in Bellevue.

The patrols serve tactical and promotional purposes. According to Officer Tim Edwards, a 15-year veteran of the MNPD and member of the mounted patrol since 2012, the horses serve to build bridges between the police and the community, especially with youngsters.

“A lot of kids who live in the city have never seen or touched a horse before,” he says. “So, when they get to interact with a horse and a police officer, it’s the best of both worlds. They feel comfortable talking to us and they know they can approach us at any time about anything at all. When they realize we’re just human like everyone else, man, that helps a ton.”

Sgt. Kevin Cooper, parks patrol supervisor since 2013, agrees. “I hate to say it breaks down barriers but, when people stop to talk and ask questions about my horse, by the end of the conversation they don’t see a police officer on a horse; they see a person. Retired MNPD Mounted Sgt. J.D. Harber used to tell people, ‘No one ever stopped and asked to pet my patrol car.’”

On the tactical side, the mounted patrol provides a resource that cannot be matched by officers on foot or in cars.

“We use these guys downtown on Friday and Saturday nights,” says Edwards. “We break up fights with them. We always say, ‘It doesn’t matter how drunk you are. You see 1,200 pounds of animal coming at you, you’re gonna get out of the way.’ Crowd control is our bread and butter.”

That was particularly evident in 2020 when the Mounted Patrol was deployed downtown during riots. “They were a pivotal part of saving our city from getting burned down,” says Edwards. “[Rioters] were trying to attack our central precinct. The horses rode in and pushed the crowd back and were able to hold them off until officers on foot were able to reinforce and hold the line.”

About a dozen Tennessee Walking Horses and officers serve on the units. Horses enter service between the ages of four and eight years and will work until they’re 18 or 20. Upon retirement, a mounted patrol horse receives a pension that covers feed, veterinary and farrier bills for life.

The typical mounted patrol officer joins the unit with little to no riding experience.

“If you come in here with no bad habits, then we don’t have to break those,” says Edwards. “If you come in with an open mind and open slate, we can teach you everything you need to know.”

Officers who have been on patrol in a car for three years are eligible to apply for a specialized unit like the mounted patrol. Applicants who pass an initial interview and physical fitness test are placed on a waitlist. Upon acceptance, they must complete 150 saddle hours before certification.

The easiest way to differentiate between the MNPD and Parks Patrols is that the Parks’ horses have reflective yellow bands on their forward-facing tack. The police patrol does not.

The bond between horse and officer runs deep.

“Obviously we build relationships with them and there’s definitely a bond that’s established with our partner,” says Sgt. Vickie Dills of the MNPD Mounted Patrol Unit. “But at the end of the day, we still have to view them as tools.

“With that being said, we pour our heart and soul into taking care of them. We cut and bail our own hay so that we know what they’re getting. And they’re consistently seen by the vet, beyond their annuals.”

It’s the type of treatment you’d expect for Bellevue’s First Pets.

“ ... when people stop to talk and ask questions about my horse, by the end of the conversation they don’t see a police officer on a horse; they see a person.”

  • Sgt. Vickie Dills, supervisor of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department's Horse Mounted Patrol, with Flint.
  • Officer Tim Edwards (foreground) and his partner, Chisum, along with Officer Amanda Martin and her partner, Orozco, on patrol in Edwin Warner Park.
  • Officer Amanda Martin and Orozco (left) and Officer Tim Edwards and Chisum on patrol in Edwin Warner Park.
  • Sgt. Kevin Cooper and Lex on patrol in Red Caboose Park.
  • Sgt. Kevin Cooper and his mount, Lex, lead the Metro Parks Mounted Patrol in Percy Warner Park.
  • Sgt. Kevin Cooper and Lex of the  Metro Parks Mounted Patrol.