It has been a goal for Constable Nicole Boisvert to combine her love of horse-riding with her career in policing that has been 17 years in the making.
The experienced equestrian, who first saddled up on horseback at age four, was one of eight police officers to graduate from the Mounted Unit training on April 12.
Boisvert, who does show jumping and rides on the national circuit, still had much to learn in training as she had to adjust to the mounts at the Horse Palace.
“My style is very off the saddle,” she noted. “You are very light and it’s all leg pressure with the horses that are moving forward. Here, at the Mounted Unit, the horses are heavy and you have to push them forward.”
Raised in Quebec, Boisvert, found an early passion for horses.
“I started riding my neighbour’s ponies and then a friend took me to her farm to ride for her,” she said.
Boisvert, who started her law enforcement career at 52 Division, and was assigned to 41 Division and the Public Safety Response Team before joining Mounted, recently purchased two horses from Europe where she rode for the first time last year.
For fellow grad Sergeant Chris Beattie, it was emotional riding the horse named after fallen Sergeant Ryan Russell – a close friend of the officer, who died in the line of duty in January 2011.
Their careers mirrored each other, meeting at 54 Division in 1999 and working together at the Gun & Gang Task Force and at 53 Division.
“This horse is just like the person it’s named after,” said Beattie. “It does what it needs to do without fanfare, it does the job very well, it’s very quiet when it goes about its business and it’s compassionate. That’s exactly what Ryan was like.”
Training Constable Jeff Dale encouraged him to join the Mounted Unit.
“He said it’s a great place to work and the environment is welcoming,” said Beattie. “I had never thought about becoming a unit member until then.”
Riding a horse is an entirely new experience for the officer.
“It was nerve-wracking the first time I went on one here,” said Beattie, who has played football, hockey and rugby. “For someone like me, with an athletic background, you think you can do anything. It was an eye-opener when I got here and found out that these horses are so heavy and tall.”
Veteran Sergeant Steven Moore took the course in 1993.
“I was too young in my career to come here back then,” he said.
Moore spent 16 years with Police Dog Services, did a tour of duty in Afghanistan and was an armament instructor at the Toronto Police College.
Deployed seven years ago on peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan, he worked in an administrative capacity as a police advisor at the NATO Regional Command South Headquarters at Kandahar Airfield, eventually mentoring the district chief of police, senior officers and checkpoint commanders in Dand District and training Kandahar’s SWAT team while embedded with the Canadian Special Forces.
Moore didn’t jump on a horse for the next 25 years, until the training program started 13 weeks ago.
“The instructors and horses are different, but the basics are the same,” he said. “I forgot a lot of what I learned, so I had to start over again.”
Entering his 30th year with the Service next month, Moore hopes to serve out the rest of his career as a Mounted officer.
He relished riding Simcoe, with whom he was able to develop the same rapport he did with his general purpose dog, Stryker, who shares the same work ethic.
Sergeant Steve Lorriman, who spent nine years at 12 Division where he was promoted, gained an appreciation for police horses while working in frontline roles.
“I saw them in the Entertainment District and was really fascinated by the way they were able to control crowds,” he said, of the massive animals who are often able to quell disturbances through their mere presence.
Lorriman had never been on a horse prior to joining the unit.
“The thing that stood out for me is that you get a different perspective in terms of doing your job,” he said. “Looking down from on top of a horse, you get to see in vehicles, which is something you wouldn’t be able to do if you are on foot, a bicycle or in a scout car. It was mind-boggling the first time I went out on the street and realized how much I could see from high up that I wasn’t able to do before.”
Lorriman and head training Sergeant Kris McCarthy started their policing careers 22 years ago at 51 Division.
“Kris came to the Mounted Unit four years later,” he said. “To have the opportunity to be trained by him is pretty amazing.”
Elvis and Davis were Lorriman's favourite horses in training.
“Elvis is handsome and he has a calm demeanour while Davis is a work horse who does what he’s told to do without much prodding,” he added.
Four Hamilton Police Service officers also graduated.
“It is always interesting working with two different groups,” said McCarthy, who has been at the Mounted Unit for the past 18 years. “Hamilton asked us to train four of their officers and we complemented them with four of ours. They worked well together and this is one of the fastest learning classes I have had. They gelled quickly and excelled.”
The Mounted Unit comprises five platoons with a minimum of five Constables and a Sergeant.
There are 24 horses in the unit that was formed 132 years ago.