Local Horsewoman Kate Leary ‘Saddles Up’ to Serve and Protect the Howard County Community
In October 2011, while browsing through an equine magazine, Kate Leary came across an ad for the the Howard County Police Department Volunteer Mounted Patrol (VMP). The group was looking for experienced riders interested in joining the inaugural team.
Kate, who owns a horse farm in Mayo, was intrigued by the opportunity and thought “what the heck” let’s give it a try.
So that November, Kate loaded her horse Habanero onto her trailer and drove to the Montgomery County Police Horse Training Facility for try-outs.
“Habanero is a quiet quarter horse,” said Kate. “I thought, what do I have to lose?”
To try-out, the ad stated that you must be an experienced rider, own your own horse, tack, truck and trailer and be at least 21 years old.
“I met the initial requirements so off I went,” said Kate.
According to Sargent William Cheuvront with the VMP, the program is just over one year old. The VMP’s duties include horse patrols at Howard County parks and other large events entailing crowds and traffic. The mounted volunteers are considered Auxiliary Police Officers. They report concerns and violations but do not have any enforcement powers.
Motorcycles, Mattresses and Smoke Bombs
At the training facility, Leary along with 75 other candidates and their horses were put through a series of tests. Habanero, under Kate’s guidance, had to walk over mattresses, past a noise machine and over a bridge. There was gun fire, smoke bombs, police cars with lights flashing and barking dogs and revved-up Harley Davidson motorcycles.
“At one point Habanero looked at me with questioning eyes,” said Leary. “I urged him on, and because of his trust in me he kept moving pass one obstacle after another.”
Overall there were 20 stations that tested the horses suitability and temperament along with rider’s skills. The try-outs lasted about four hours after which Leary and Habanero went home without knowing if they had made the team.
Passing the Test
Then in February 2012, Kate got a letter from the Howard County Police Department that said she and Habanero had passed the assessment test. The next step included personal interviews, background checks, home visits, photos of the horses and their stabling and health records.
Out of the 75 initial applicants, 12 including Kate and Habanero were selected to go on to the full training with the Howard County Police Department. The training covered police protocol, administrative paperwork, drug identification, legal and liabilities, parks and recreation maps, police radio usage along with facilities and police specialty forces and emergency back-up.
Leary officially started as a VMP with the Howard County Police Department on Memorial Day Weekend 2012. Leary said it’s not “just a walk in the park” for the VMP’s. They are always on the lookout for people who may need assistance. In fact, on one of the very first patrols, one of the teams located three lost children in Savage Mill Park and reunited them with their Church Group.
“We have the advantage of height to see over the cars, can access remote parts of the park system and have a high approachability factor from people who want to meet the horses,” said Leary. “Habanero loves the attention and will gladly stand quietly to meet children and pose for pictures. He is a better horse and I am a better person because of this job.”
Cheuvront said Kate does a fantastic job on patrol and meeting the community. “Habanero and Kate are among the most active members of the group,” said Cheuvront.
Leary said she is glad that she took the chance and tried out for the position. “I love to see the kids’ eyes light up when they see the horses or when female joggers approach us and tell us they feel safer with the horse patrol in the park. It makes you feel like you are making a difference and helping others.”
Here are photos of Kate and Habanero at try-outs and on the job. Happy trails!