FROM riots and footie matches, to royal weddings and state funerals – it’s all in a day’s work for a Lewisham police horse.
There are 18 trusty steeds based at Lewisham Police Station – soon to be the biggest stable in the Met – and it is not all horsing around.
Training for their job includes having tennis balls thrown at them, being exposed to smoke and hearing gunshots over a period of time so they grow used to hazards.
But they also help build bridges between police and communities, serving as an ice-breaker when officers are out on daily three-hour patrols as well as deterring criminals.
Sergeant Paul Johnson, of Lewisham’s MPS Mounted Branch, told News Shopper: "We get such a good reaction from the public with high visibility patrols.
"The amount of people who approach us is fantastic, it breaks those barriers down. Some days we get stopped every few paces from people of all different ages and ethnicities.
"It reassures people and deters people hoping to do quick burglaries.
"It is often the presence of the horses that can stop things happening."
He says officers range from having no horse experience when they join to owning their own, and develop a "bond" by often grooming the creatures themselves.
Sergeant Johnson, who was a police officer for 20 years before joining the branch, said: "We have to know that one particular horse might be fine with petrol bombs but doesn’t like things like plastic bags coming towards their head and it can upset them.
"You have to build them up gradually to those sort of hazards."
He added: "You have to remember all that riding stuff, but also have your police head on."
He went on to say a recent spate of burglaries in Lewisham High Street towards Rushey Green dropped to zero after the patrol started riding through that area.
Did you know ...?
• Police horses are typically taken on at four or five years old and trained for a year or two.
• They work until around 22 years old when there are waiting lists from horse sanctuaries and officers to look after them
• They often retire due to arthritis from pounding on hard road surfaces
• Police horses are large for crowd control and start at 16 hands but the average is 17 plus
• Lewisham’s horses are fed at 7am, groomed, rested and start their patrols in areas such as Lewisham, Southwark and Croydon at 10.30am
• They wear nose guards, eye protectors leg guards, and hoof boots, during riots and high-risk football games.
• They like peppermints and carrots as treats, but are mainly fed hay and hard feed three times a day
• Different breeds are used from greys, to Irish Draughts and cart horses
Excalibur Darker horses are often used for state funerals and he was recently in a force funeral. His mum was a shire horse so he has a quiet temperament, but his dad was a thoroughbred so he can also be lively.
Defender A big fellow at around 17.2 hands and weighing about three quarters of a tonne or 800kgs. He is 19 years old.
Grace A white, used for protecting the Queen’s boxes, she recently led the royal wedding. Grace will allow armed officers to fire a gun from her.
Finsbury Sergeant Johnson said: "Originally a park’s police horse. He got a little upset with bands, it wasn’t really for him. He’s been a great horse.
"He pulls faces, he’s quite a character."
George the stable cat
George lives amongst the hay to guard it from mice, but he is old and almost toothless. He rocked up one day at Brixton’s stables as a stray and moved to Lewisham when the horses were centralized there.