LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) – You’ll see many Lafayette police officers on horseback if you head to Festival International this weekend.
The horses are used for crowd control at big events and Saturday nights in the downtown area.
The department has had a mounted patrol unit for more than 11 years.
And they’re doing now more than ever before.
Every Saturday night you’ll find the Lafayette Police Mounted Unit on Jefferson Street.
Officers on horseback patrol the downtown area, respond to problems, and provide crowd control, especially after the bars close and at festivals.
“One well-trained police horse with one well-trained operator is equivalent to 20-foot soldiers on the ground in a crowd control situation,” Sgt. Jason Ardoin, of the Lafayette Police Department, tells News 10.
The horses give officers a great view of all the action.
“We’re so high we can see a lot further than the average officer on the ground can and vice versa, if someone is trying to do something or looking to do something wrong, if they can see us we can see them so that works out really, really well,” Ardoin said.
Sgt. Jason Ardoin supervises the mounted patrol. He’s been with the unit since it was formed in 2005.
“I grew up around horses so for me to be able to actually train them and work with them is a benefit to me.”
There are six horses in the unit, they’re a mix of Thoroughbred and Percheron Draft.
They were bred at the Angola State Penitentiary. Lafayette Police got them when they were four-years-old.
Nine officers work the detail but there are only two who work with the horses full-time; Sgt. Ardoin who rides Rio and Officer Randall Thomas, Jr. who rides Dutch.
The police department leases land in Carencro for the mounted patrol program.
They use about 8 or 9 acres of this land for their stables, training facilities, and pastures where the horses can graze and roam.
The horses are always busy. There is a training arena and obstacle course to try and mimic things the horses will encounter in public.
The horses are often used in hard to get to areas. “We have the mattress for texture, different types of ground surfaces that we may have to step over and into with the horses,” Ardoin explained.
The horses are also public relations ambassadors visiting schools and nursing homes. And about six weeks ago they started patrolling shopping centers.
Community members often interact with the officers and their horses.
“We had seen them a couple of weeks ago but I never got to touch one up close so that was really fun,” Karen Sophan, of Lafayette, told News 10.
John “The Revelator” Mills sees the horses in downtown Lafayette when the bars close.
“At the time they shut down, they tell the people it’s time to go, they blow their whistle, and they let everybody know it’s time to go. They’re doing a good job!” Mills said.
You may be surprised to learn the cost of the mounted program.
Once the horses are purchases or donated to the department, the mounted patrol’s yearly budget is $47,000. That does not include officers’ salaries which are paid out of the general fund.
“It basically pays for their farrier care, their vet care, our stable lease, their food and basic maintenance around the facility,” Ardoin explained.
He says the horses can help bridge the gap between community members and police officers.And just like K-9s, these horses are considered police officers.
An untrained horse costs the police department around $5,000. But once they’re trained, the horses are worth about $35,000.