Mounted Police

When I was a child I thought being a mounted policewoman would be my second-best dream job (first was to be the reporter who galloped up to the winner of a triple crown race to interview that first flush of glorious triumph).

Today on a hike near Point Lobos on the west side of San Francisco I saw two mounted police.
I fondly remembered my childhood dream.  And imagined, for a brief instant, what it would be like to ride horses along a scenic ocean vista for a living.

But that childhood dream is tempered by reality, such as today's news story:

A woman was outside a bar with friends when she claims mounted officers aggressively approached and used a horse to pin her against the wall; she put her hand to the horse's face as a reaction.
Police claim they were trying to control the crowd on horseback and the woman slapped one of the mounts.  
She has been charged with battery on a police horse.
The woman claims she is also branded as an animal abuser because of this incident.
After 12 hours in a St. Petersburg jail, she was released.


This is a different animal abuse case than most are familiar with, such as a senseless person who neglects to feed or water his horse, hoards hundreds of cats, or lights an animal on fire, among other horrific abuses.  The woman is claiming, seemingly, self-defense: that the horse had put her in a position that required an instant reaction not of conscious thought.

The comments on the article range from calling animal abusers "cowards," to admitting it would likely be frightening to be cornered by a 1400 pound animal, especially one that is "forward and aggressive."  Some thought using "sugar cubes or apples work better than a slap," while others questioned if the horse was even injured.

The incident sounds unfortunate, but not animal abuse.  Though the facts will reveal what kind of slap it was, how many times, or other relevant factors to determine if this was abuse or not.  Battery is simply "the use of force against another, resulting in harmful or offensive contact," so the woman's behavior could very well be determined unlawful. 
Can a horse be "another" as contemplated by the definition?
Was the horse harmed or offended?

I'm curious how in Florida battery against a police horse is different than battery against a police officer, or battery against a non-police horse.

One commenter noted that police animals are treated the same as a police officer, thus bringing any action against a police animal into the same laws as actions against human officers.

On the other side, one reader comment was that:
Animals such as horses and dogs have no place being labeled as police officers. Crimes against animals that police use as tools should be treated as property crime, nothing more.

This comment ties in neatly with this blog's previous discussions as to how horses should be defined; if they should remain as personal property, or if there should be a legal acknowledgment that horse's are more than property.

Do we need Legislated laws to protect horse welfare?

In California it is only horse racing that is subject to LAWS, laws that are legally binding.  All other horse sports in the state have RULES, which are created by individual organizations and while they may have penalties such as suspension or fines, they are technically voluntary because they are not legally compelled.

Some argue that by not having LAWS in all the other areas of horse sports, horse welfare will not be adequately protected.

For example, in California is the California Horse Racing Board, established by the authority of the California Constitution, that regulates horse treatment.  There are whip use guidelines and penalties for jockeys who misuse, abuse, or overuse the whip on a horse while racing.  But in other divisions, whip use guidelines are only rules, and not legally enforceable (legal enforceability is what makes this distinction important).

By establishing voluntary rules for an organization, say for example, the Hunter Division of the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), the organization is setting a standard of care.  Because of the rule, all competitors in the hunter division abide by the rules.  If a competitor breaches a rule, the competitor is breaching the standard of care for hunter riding.

       How does this help horse welfare?
Well, in the civil court system (which is the non-criminal court), a common standard for negligent behavior is breach of the Reasonably Prudent Person Standard (RPP).  Did the accused behave the way a reasonable prudent hunter rider would have acted in a like circumstance?  If the accused deviated from how a RPP hunter rider would have acted, then that is prima facie evidence of negligence, and the rider would then have to justify his behavior.

So if you think your horse has been misused, abused, or overused by another rider or trainer, look for rules that could establish what the common practices are for that industry.  For example, in Western Riding, large spurs are used, and used most often in an appropriate manner.  There are rules and common practices regarding spurs in Western sport.  However, if those same spurs are used in a hunter course, then there is a great likelihood that the spurs are being used in an injurious manner because the typical short stirrup in a hunter ride places the spur in direct contact with the horse's side, unlike the long stirrups used in a Western pleasure class.  If there is evidence of a breach of common practices, the breaching rider or trainer will typically then have to bear the burden of proof and show that he did not breach the standard of care.

It all seems complicated, but it is rather straightforward:
1. What is common practice? (Are there rules establishing it?)
2. Did the rider/trainer have a duty to adhere to the common practice?
3. Was there a breach of common practice? (Breach of RPP standard?)
    A. Was there an injury...
    B. Caused by the breach?

While horse welfare laws are minimal, and specific California horse welfare (as opposed to general animal welfare) laws are limited, there are ways that the rules and common practices of your horse sport can protect horse welfare in areas where the Legislature has not reached.