A night out on Oxford’s Square looks like a Friday night in most college towns: students and visitors filling up bars and restaurants, loud music pulsing into the streets and lines of Ubers and taxis looking for their next passenger.
But one thing that sets apart Oxford’s nightlife scene from some other collegiate counterparts is the Oxford Police Department Mounted Patrol Unit. The group of eight horses stand tall over the crowded streets and alleys of the Square, put in place to manage the large crowds that accumulate during weekends in Oxford.
You’ve probably seen Snapchats of rowdy Square-goers trying to pet the horses, and OPD’s Twitter account has posted photos of Ole Miss legends like Archie Manning hanging out with the herd.
OPD’s David Misenhelter is the officer in charge of the unit and spends much of his time ensuring the horses are ready for weekends on the Square.
Misenhelter said that the horses are an excellent tool for crowd management, law enforcement and public relations.
“Due to the increased height on a horse, the mounted officer is able to survey a large area quickly and address problem situations effectively,” he said. “The officer and his mount are also a crime deterrent due to their increased visibility to the public.”
Misenhelter said the mounted unit boosts OPD’s manpower on busy nights.
“One mounted patrol officer and his or her horse is compared to the effectiveness of 10 police officers on foot in crowd control situations,” he said.
In addition to working with the horses while on Square duty, Misenhelter directs much of the care and training of OPD’s horses at the stable.
“We oversee healthcare of the herd, maintain the facility and equipment and provide ongoing training to horses and riders to keep their abilities sharp,” he said.
Horses undergo a rigorous training process before they officially become members of the herd.
“During the initial training and evaluation phase, each horse is assessed and put through obstacles like tarps, fireworks and smoke,” Misenhelter said. “Also, the horse will be further assessed while working alone and in groups with other horses. Sensory and crowd control situations will be introduced at this point.”
Once a horse has passed this phase, they move on to various locations and neighborhoods in Oxford before heading to their final test: patrolling the Square.
“The downtown area is very dynamic for training as there is continuous vehicular and pedestrian traffic, balconies, music and ever changing scenery,” Misenhelter said.
Misenhelter said his favorite part of working with the horses is seeing their training help them blossom into effective patrol horses.
“It doesn’t come easily,” he said. “It takes patience and consistency to help them overcome their fears and gain confidence on the street.”
Misenhelter also noted that Mounted Patrol helps to create a special bond between the Oxford community and the police department.
“We interact with hundreds of people during the course of a shift,” he said. “Some people have never been that close to horses and enjoy visiting with them. Being out on the street at all times gives us the ability to connect with people.”
Full story to be in The Ole Miss 2019 Yearbook.