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September 27, 2019

WILMORE, Ky. — The word is out — Asbury University’s student-trained service mounts are the best on the market. That’s why six police departments from the U.S. and Canada visited Asbury’s Equine Center in conjunction with the annual National Mounted Police Colloquium in Lexington, Ky. It’s also why Asbury completely sold out of available horses by the end of the week.

Advocates of mounted policing say horses function as community ambassadors, helping officers build positive relationships. Individuals who might otherwise be hesitant to approach the police will walk right up to a horse, officers say. Consequently, Asbury’s rigorously trained mounts are in high demand — so much so that several departments visited Asbury the week before Colloquium to make sure they could have the first pick of horses.

“It’s the students’ passion that makes the difference,” said Harold Rainwater, director of Asbury’s Equine Program. “They know what departments are looking for, and they are so skilled that some of them will wind up becoming trainers in these departments after they graduate.”

Asbury’s Service Mounts Training Program is set apart by excellent leadership — including internationally-known trainer Jesse Westfall, Rainwater and farm manager David McIlrath — as well as talented, hard-working students who devote long hours each week to training.

Through Asbury’s one-of-a-kind program, Percheron/Thoroughbred crosses are bought as colts and meticulously trained for service in mounted units. When they graduate (at ages 3 or 4) Asbury horses are safe, reliable and ready for active duty. Asbury is the only university in America with a police horse training program conducted by the students.

From left: Officer Mark Zajac, Sgt. Doug Muston, Matt Sagan ’19 and Officer Sandra Chavez pose with Jackson, the newest member of the Detroit Mounted Police.

Matt Sagan ’19, a recent Equine Center graduate, attended an open house and cookout hosted by Asbury on Thursday evening. He was there to say goodbye to Jackson, the horse he trained throughout his time at Asbury, and to say hello to Jackson’s new family — the Detroit (Michigan) Mounted Police.

“It helped having Jesse Westfall as a training instructor and to have police units coming in and looking at horses — I absorbed everything,” said Sagan, who took a leadership role in the Service Mounts Training Program during his senior year. “Training was very eye-opening. I realized I could make a career out of this.”

Sgt. Doug Muston of the Detroit Mounted Police says Jackson will play a key part in his department’s efforts to build positive relationships with the community.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Jackson is going to be great — I like to think he’s going to be one of our best horses, if not the very best, for years to come,” Muston said. “He has to prove himself, then I can make the sales pitch to my supervisors that Asbury is a good place to get another horse.”

Officer Sandra Chavez, also from Detroit, says she was “overwhelmed” by the size and quality of Asbury’s Equine Program when she first visited. Her advice to other departments — get in line early if you want an Asbury horse.

“I won’t say which units, but some come in and snatch them all up real quick,” Chavez said, laughing. “They know that Harold’s got a good program, so anyone in the future that wants a horse from Asbury, they need to come and look at them while the horses are young, because they do have a very good reputation, and the word has gotten out.”

Sgt. Thomas Ivie and Officer Andy Montoya of the Albuquerque (New Mexico) Horse Mounted Unit purchased two Asbury horses this year — Karson and Kain. Both are 2-year-olds who will continue to be trained by students Lily Earlywine ’21 and Greysen Graham ’20 for another year.

“We started researching Asbury’s program four years ago at the Colloquium,” Montoya said. “We saw the quality of the horses. We had been doing our own training, but it’s getting difficult. We did research online, contacted other departments Asbury has sent horses to, and we got wonderful reviews about the quality of the horses and their training.”

For Albuquerque, as for other units, horses have a transformative effect on community engagement.

“Horses are the biggest PR tool any department has,” Montoya said. “People interact with the horse, and therefore, with the officer. You find things out. People will talk to you. Everybody’s got that fantasy of being around a horse, talking to a cowboy.”

In New Mexico, mounted officers really are cowboys, wearing the cowboy hat and the U.S. Marshall badge and using Western saddles. It’s all about being community-oriented, Montoya says — reminding people that the police exist to help; to protect. See the horse? See the badge? These are the good guys.

“We’re in the Southwest,” Montoya said. “This is authentic. We need to build that community-oriented policing, and nothing is better than a horse to encourage people to stop and talk to us. There is no better tool.”

At Asbury University, students are equipped to “impact the world for Christ,” and through the Service Mounts Training Program, that mission extends to police departments across North America. From Vancouver to Albuquerque, horses trained by Asbury students are becoming crucial partners in community-oriented policing.

“We firmly believe we are getting the better end of this deal,” Montoya said. “This will be an ongoing thing.”


To learn more about Asbury’s Service Mount Training Program, visit: asbury.edu/Mounts.