Northumbria Police’s mounted unit has been 162 years in the making and was originally based in a stable block behind Newcastle city centre’s Market Street station.
Now it is preparing to move into the stud farm on the Lambton Estate, off the A183 Chester Road near Bournmoor, after setting up a temporary base nearby.
It follows a move from Kirkley Hall near Morpeth and a history which has also seen its horses stabled in Jesmond Dene.
While progress is being made ahead of the February launch of the livery, work continues to keep the horses in top condition for patrols at any time.
It is the task of PCs Tony Fyall, Michelle Alexander, Beverley Crain, Julia Wright, Jo Watson and Lucy Adair and grooms Catherine Hamilton, Paula Dey, Megan Curtis and Polly Sanderson ensure they are on top of all duties.
The unit has eight horses at the moment, but is on the search for a new mount to make up the number to its ideal level of nine – the Met Police in London has 130 in comparison, but most small forces have around the same number as the North East team.
Northumbria is one of 13 of the 43 forces around the country to have a horse section and has been called in by their colleagues from Glasgow down to Brighton, but most often they are requested by the neighbouring Cleveland and Durham forces for large scale events.
They are often seen at Sunderland and Newcastle matches – and even play football themselves during training session to help fine-tune the horses’ skills when moving through a crowd – and play a part in Sunderland’s Remembrance Day parade, one of the largest outside of London.
They are trained to deal with high-stress situations, such as when fireworks are let off and riots, and have even been taught to wee on command to avoid any messy situations when they are in public.
The unit is led by Sergeant Stu Coates, who has spent most of his 22-year career in public order, took a 16-week crash course to learn how to ride, admitting it was a “very steep learning curve.”
The officer credits his colleagues for their top efforts, from ensuring the animals are fed, watered and kept safe, to facing crowds of tens of thousands of people without panic.
Many of the Pcs have also previously worked in public order, giving them a background which means they know how to manage events, while every effort goes into the welfare of the horses, from regular farrier visits, checks by physios and vets, to their own bespoke saddle.
“It's all down to the fact it’s a well-oiled unit and there’s a lot that goes into getting these horses ready,” said Sgt Coates.
“We can bring in horses at four, and we assess whether they are suitable.
“It can take up to two years to train them up fully, on patrols and to a football standard.
“What we always have to remember is they are a flight animal, they like to keep together.
“Every horse is different and we find if one won’t go on, the rest won't go.
“We always find Peroni will lead them in first and they will also follow.”
Like a dog unit, the skills – or intuition – they have cannot be replicated by people or machine.
Sgt Coates added: “A couple are classed as remounts, where our intermediate riders will ride them to the stage where most of our people can ride them, and we start out on quiet patrols.
“We help combat antisocial behaviour. We can take them into town centres and sometimes our patrols go on until 1am.
“They are like radars. It could be all quiet on a patrol, but they will know when something is up long before we do.
“The police animals here do something that we just cannot supply and they are part of our operations department, they are classed as a technical tool.
“We play a special part of the police.
“It’s rewarding, really rewarding, but also a real challenge, no one day is ever the same with the horses.”
Meet the team
Penelope – Stable name Bella, the distinctive chesnut and white Clydesdale was a pet and came to the force through her owner in Whitby.
She is the first ever mare to join the unit in its history, but the force hopes to bring on more in future.
Parker – Stable name Bart thanks to the Irish Draft’s cheeky character like The Simpson character, he’s known as a good jump horse.
The City Greys have been established as football horses and when paired up with Pluto, Sgt Coates say they are quite the sight.
Peroni – The Irish sports horse is known as Benji in the stables, he is 21-years-old and approaching retirement.
He may be the smallest at 17.1hh – 5ft 7in – but he is the leader of the pack.
Sgt Coates said: “When he retires, somebody else will step up. Where he goes, the rest will follow.”
Perth – Or Bud to his pals, as the Cyldesdale looks like the Budweiser horses used to promote the beer.
The four-year-old is a newcomer to the team and Sgt Coates said: “he will be a really great horse, he’s not scared of much.”
Percy – A Friesian breed, the bay has a “nice, quiet temperament” and likes to jump, with the skill part of the training programme run by the stables to ensure both horses and riders can handle any obstacles they may face while out on the streets.
Potter – The shire horse is known as Harry at the base, with his fetlocks trimmed to make it easier for the team to keep him clean.
“He’s a really powerful horse,” said Sgt Coates.
Patronus – AKA Bruno is also a Irish sports horse and has an eventing background, with finer features than his stablemates.
Sgt Coates said: “He's a real gentleman, a real softy and the horse I generally ride and he’s a good football horse.”
Pluto – Stable name Conrad, the Irish draft grey is the tallest in the troop at 18hh – that's 6ft.
“Being so tall works really well at the Sunderland match,” said Sgt Coates.