Reassuring: A mounted officer in The Mall in London. Horses have also played an important role at football matches and violent protests
For decades they have been a powerful and reassuring sight at big occasions, controlling crowds at protests and football matches or adding to the pomp and ceremony of Royal processions.
But now police chiefs admit that budget cuts mean there are no longer enough police horses to cover major public events.
Instead, mounted branches may have to be replaced by dogs, officers on foot or on bikes, or CCTV cameras – even though they will not be as good at keeping people safe.
Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal: ‘Mounted officers do provide commanders with the ability to respond rapidly to events and deploy tactics which are very effective in a public order environment.
‘Other tactics that could be utilised as an alternative to mounted officers will, in some instances, be less effective.’
Mounted police capacity has fallen by 19 per cent in the past five years, according to the paper presented to the Chief Constables’ Council by Justine Curran, who until recently headed Humberside Police.
She wrote that the fall ‘highlights the risk that police may not be able to access the required level of mounted police services’.
Just a dozen of the 45 forces in Britain have horses, despite an academic review commissioned in 2014 concluding that mounted units have a ‘unique role’ in dealing with crowds.
Police horses are pictured during the 2011 London riots. Mounted police capacity has fallen by 19 per cent in the past five years, according to the paper presented to the Chief Constables’ Council
Mounted units also played an important role in policing the 1990 poll tax riots. Just a dozen of the 45 forces in Britain have horses, despite an academic review commissioned in 2014 concluding that mounted units have a ‘unique role’
The part played by Metropolitan Police horse Billy in restoring order after a pitch invasion at the 1923 FA Cup Final was commemorated with a railway crossing at the new Wembley Stadium being named the White Horse Bridge.
More recently, mounted sections have been used to quell the Poll Tax riots in 1990 and disturbances in Tottenham, North London, in 2011.
Sergeant Joel Gray told an official review after trouble flared in Tottenham: ‘The sudden presence of horses caused a very visible backing off by the rioters.’
Police horses also watched over the 1923 FA Cup Final. It was commemorated with a railway crossing at the new Wembley Stadium being named the White Horse Bridge
In the paper presented to chiefs last October, Mrs Curran warned there was a ‘risk of insufficient operational national, regional and local mounted capacity for policing large-scale events, including football and significant public disorder’.
She listed the alternative tactics that could be deployed, but said: ‘It is recognised that some will not be as effective.’
The paper described how horses could be used to ‘quickly disperse hostile crowds’.
It claimed dogs could be used in this situation instead, but ‘they have reduced time in front of crowds as they tire’.
Horses can also be used to ‘split a hostile crowd’, allowing riot squads through, reducing the risk to officers and the public.
Away from public order events, the paper noted that horses provided reassurance and public engagement.
This could be done instead by ‘use of cycles by police officers in parks or rural areas’.
reassuring: A mounted officer in The Mall in London. Horses have also played an important role at football matches and violent protests