City of Houston Police Horses Go Barefoot,
Houston Police Department Mounted UnitBarefoot Program
by Greg Sokoloski, Police Officer
City of Houston, Texas
Above, Officer Sokoloski with his barefoot police horse, Shadow, a 4 yo Dutch Warmblood.
History of the Houston Police Mounted Unit
The Houston Police Department started a full time Mounted Unit in 1983 to patrol
the Central Business District in Downtown Houston. The unit started with 14
horses and has since grown to 36 horses, covering not only Downtown Houston,
but also Memorial and Hermann Parks. The Mounted Unit is also utilized in crowd
management, searches, parades, dignitary protection, and other special events
where a mounted officer will be needed.
Horses of the Houston Police Mounted Unit
The Houston Police Department currently utilizes 36 horses. There are 30 geldings
and 6 mares, ranging in age from 3 to 22 years. The breeds currently used are:
15 Quarter Horses, 8 Percheron crosses, 3 Appendix Quarter Horses, 2 Percherons,
2 Belgian crosses, 1 Dutch Warmblood, 1 Hanoverian, 1 Hackney, 1 Quarter/Arab,
1 Paint, and 1 Thoroughbred.
In December, 2003, Darolyn Butler-Dial, (a leading Endurance competitor), and
Martha Olivo, hoof care provider, President and Founder of United Horsemanship,
conducted a barefoot demo at the Mounted Patrol stables. Using horse cadaver
legs, they demonstrated how correct hoof mechanism could enhance the productivity
of our Police Horses.
My assigned horse, a Dutch Warmblood named Shadow, became the first horse to
begin with a barefoot trim. At that time, he was a 4-year-old just starting
his career as a police horse.
I have been an Officer with the unit since 1983 and have always used horses
for police work with borium-tipped metal shoes. After watching Martha Olivos
demo using the cadaver leg, I was stunned and fascinated by the importance of
hoof mechanism and how some of the injuries and behavioral problems could be
due to the constraints of metal shoes.
However, I had reservations about riding a police horse in downtown Houston
without metal shoes. Darolyn Butler-Dial convinced me, through her experience
of riding her endurance horses in 100-mile competitions through all types of
terrain, how much healthier her horses were. I then went out to evaluate the
performance of a barefoot police horse working full-time on the streets of Houston.
Shadow and I began the barefoot journey the week before the Super Bowl, held in our city February 1, 2004. Shadow took two big steps that week; his first time barefoot, and his first time as a police horse. We started work downtown on the Tuesday before the Super Bowl, and worked over all types of different terrain. His traction was excellent, he was confident in every step he took, and there was no wear of his hooves after riding.
We started working long shifts on the Thursday before the Super Bowl, to handle
the thousands of people in the downtown area and all the festivities associated
with the event. Thursday and Friday nights, we worked 14 hours each night. We
started to have to move large crowds, handle disturbances, conduct traffic control,
and move through large crowds of festive people. Also, we had been getting rain,
which made all the surfaces downtown very slippery, along with all the trash
that had now covered most of the streets. We moved from scene to scene, through
all the wet, trash-filled streets, barefoot and sometimes at a run. This was
the point that convinced me that horses could walk and run on the streets barefoot.
On Saturday morning, Shadow was showing signs of soreness, but not lameness.
Martha and Darloyn both explained to me that this could occur, and hoof boots
should help. I picked up a set of Old Mac's Boots from Darolyn. Saturday and
Sunday were both 14 hour days, and Shadow never showed any more signs of soreness
in the Old Macs. We again worked through thousands of festive people,
over all sorts of varying road conditions. The Old Macs performed flawlessly,
and again this convinced me that barefoot was the way to go, even if there was
an occasional need for hoof boots.
Throughout the week, Shadow was monitored and evaluated by other Supervisors
in the Mounted Unit. Shadow had worked every day of the Super Bowl barefoot,
and never had any problems without shoes, or working in hoof boots. This convinced
the administration there might be a need to move forward with additional police
horses going barefoot.
The City sent me to Martha Olivos 2 week Hoof Groom Course
shortly after that. The funding for the school was donated by others wanting
the education, and to see additional police horses go barefoot. I spent 2 weeks
with Martha and other students, trimming and dissecting cadaver feet, getting
schooled on proper hoof mechanism, evaluating and mapping hooves, treating lameness
in horses, and proper trimming techniques.
After the 2 week Hoof Groom Course, I continued with Shadow. My
first police horse to take barefoot after Shadow was Barney. He had been chronically
lame and abscessing since November, 2003. I evaluated Barney and pulled his
shoes in February, 2004. I found excessive bar that had covered the entire bottom
of the sole. I trimmed the bar, and started to balance his hooves. He has since
not been lame, and continues to be barefoot as a police horse.
Since Shadow and Barney, I have taken an additional 9 horses into the Barefoot
Program. Most of the horses in the program are horses that have had physical
problems which have now been alleviated with a correct trim. Each additional
horse that is taken into the barefoot program will have their hooves photographed
and measured. Their progress will be evaluated each week by the Officer assigned
to that horse. I am now trimming the horses that have been in the program about
every 2 weeks. I am currently working on a Quarter/Arab mare that had very contracted
hooves. She is now downtown, barefoot, and doing very well.
The City has since sent another Officer to Martha Olivos Hoof Groom
Course, and is now also in the process of purchasing the needed tools
for our use. We are also going to purchase 10 pairs of the Marquis Hoof Boots.
I really like the Old Macs, but you cannot replace any of the parts on
them. With the Marquis, we are able to replace parts, including the soles, instead
of replacing the whole boot. I have spoken with Corporal Mike Morrow of the
Tampa Police Mounted Unit, who uses the Old Macs. Their police horses
wear hoof boots all the time, and they usually get 9 months of service before
the boot soles are worn down. Our department will not use the hoof boots full
time, but being able to replace the soles is important to us. The Marquis Boots
will be used for transitioning a new horse into barefoot, long assignments,
or protection in large disturbances.
Although there is much discussion over horses going barefoot, for the horses
we have transitioned, we are very pleased with the results. More horses will
continue to be added as the advantages become more apparent. We would like to
extend an invitation for anyone wanting to visit our horses to contact me at
Greg Sokoloski, Police Officer
City of Houston, Texas, Phone: 713-812-5158
Click here to read Part 2 of this article.
Article published in The Horse's Hoof Magazine Issue 18, Winter 2005
Note: Photos are provided for reference and educational purposes only, and are not meant to indicate guidelines for trimming. Every horse should be trimmed as an individual. Opinions vary as to what constitutes "correct" but keep in mind - there are NO PERFECT FEET, not even in the wild. Owners are cautioned to seek professional help for the trimming of their own horse's feet. Owner trimming of pathological feet is not advised. Photos may not be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any way.
©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
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