Old-fashioned horse sense: New mounted unit gives police advantage on patrol

With two heads and six legs, the latest tool in the Boulder City Police Department’s arsenal hearkens back to the early days of law enforcement. The city has added a mounted unit — or officer on horseback.

After eight years of work to bring the unit to the city, Officer Scott Pastore and his horse Odie made their debut during the Damboree parade on July 4, a little more than a week after becoming an official part of the department.

“Officer Scott Pastore brought the idea of resurrecting the unit to me some months ago,” said Police Chief Tim Shea. “Having someone like officer Pastore so involved made resurrecting the unit much easier. Mounted units, in some sort of configuration, have been a part of American law enforcement since the beginning. There are operations across the county.”

Pastore’s partner is an 18-year-old Missouri fox trotter who has been with him for three months. Odie went through intensive and obstacle training before meeting Pastore, who said that they bonded immediately.

“We have a mutual understanding of each other,” he said. “He protects me, and I protect him. It’s a team dynamic.”

A horse in a mounted unit works off of verbal cues, much like a K-9 officer, and is treated more like an officer than a pet. Still, Odie gets his fair share of affection from Pastore and an occasional treat such as carrots and apples.

Perfect partner

Starting a mounted unit wasn’t easy. First Pastore had to get permission from the police chief, and then he had to find the right horse.

To qualify as a mounted unit, the horse must have the proper temperament, be able to face issues that are typically scary for horses (they are naturally fight-or-flight animals) and be the right size, a minimum of 15 hands. Odie is 15.3.

Pastore said only about one of every 10-20 horses meets the basic requirements for a mounted unit.

Being around horses is nothing new for Pastore.

“I’ve been raised with horses since I was a child. My grandfather had them. I also did rodeo,” said Pastore, who has been with the department for 15 years and volunteers as director of Boulder City High School’s rodeo team.

Adding a mounted unit to the department was a way for him to combine his two passions while giving the department an edge.

“They are very good public relations tools and also are extremely useful for events with crowds, or areas where it is advantageous to have officers ‘above the crowds’ where they can see things occurring. … They are also very efficient and effective when searching open areas for (a) missing person, especially children,” said Shea, who has been involved with mounted units in San Diego, Seattle and the Snohomish County, Washington.

Having a mounted unit can also be a great asset to the police department by being able to chase subjects with greater ease.

“They are the best off-road vehicle,” Pastore said.

Odie can go places a car can’t and will “never run out of gas … it won’t stall out.”

Additionally, the horse’s size and strength act as deterrents.

“There are endless things we can do,” he said, noting he and Odie already gave out their first traffic violation.

Bridge to community

Pastore owns Odie and pays for all the related expenses for caring for him.

He added that about 80 percent of all mounted units decline any extra pay “because we love what we do.”

“The mounted unit is a great addition to the police department,” said dispatcher Kelly Haugh, who helps care for Odie.

She said Pastore and Odie will have a chance to network with the community and have a positive impact and influence on people.

Pastore agreed, noting that one person told him at a recent event that a police car doesn’t have a personality, but a horse does.

Additionally, having a mounted unit “is a great bridge between the community and officers,” Pastore said, adding that Odie loves people.

“A lot of kids have never petted a horse before. If I can make a fan out of one kid, that’s a goal.”

The two have gone through extensive training sessions for mounted police officers, including the Metropolitan Police Department’s mounted unit training and an advanced session in Kentucky. Odie also spent months training with Lisa Marie Hellmer in Pahrump.

Plus, Pastore continues to work with Odie, conditioning him for any situation they might encounter, such as objects flying in his face or hitting his legs, or a child coming up from behind or trying to walk underneath him. They train together six days a week.

Odie’s stable mates are Missy, a quarter horse and retired barrel racer, and Bowie, a thoroughbred and former racehorse.

A posse has been formed to accompany Pastore and Odie at community events. A meeting about the unit and posse will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Elaine K. Smith Center, 700 Wyoming St. Pastore will provide more information about the unit and well as opportunities to support it and the posse.

Pastore intends to retire in five years, and Odie will retire then, too.

“Now I can literally ride off into the sunset,” he said.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

Reporter Celia Short Goodyear contributed to this story. She can be reached at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.