As Anaheim PD Officer Eric Anderson and Cash approach the obstacle, the quarter horse slows and sniffs the wooden cart before continuing to push it forward with his chest.
With the successful completion of obstacles, the four teammates on each Anaheim PD team are quick to offer support and encouragement to each other and their horses.
After all, that’s what the annual California Mounted Officers Association Memorial Trail Trials & Sensory Training is really about.
“It was a training where everybody could just get together,” said Maura “Mo” Parga, a San Diego Police Department homicide detective and one of the founding members of the event, which began in 1997.
Twenty years later, the event is going strong, continuing to rotate throughout member cities and attracting participants near and far – including even Canada and Australia. While there’s certainly a competitive element to the event, with categories including Sensory Trail Course for individuals, Sensory Trail Course Team and a Speed Event with accompanying prizes, a lot of it is about practicing skills on horses while spending time with friends and colleagues in law enforcement.
“Coming out here is a de-stressor for us,” said Anderson, who is on the CMOA board of directors and also coordinator of this year’s event.
Fifty-four competitors from various agencies came out to the June 24 event at Fred Palmer Equestrian Facility in La Verne for the 12-obstacle sensory course plus a speed contest. Most of Anaheim PD’s Mounted Unit participated in the event – seven total – including Anderson and Cash; Lt. Chris Pena and Maggie; Officer Brian Carrion and Quattro; Officer Ryan Nichols and Rocky; Officer Pat Bradley and Lincoln; Officer Matt Bradley and Lucky; and Officer Ryan Schmidt and Tahoe. The agency has been participating in the event since its founding.
“I can’t believe it’s 20 years,” said Rob Dawson, CMOA president and member of the Santa Monica Police Department, to the gathered competitors at the start of the event on Saturday morning, June 24.
After a brief introduction by members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which hosted the event this year, Dawson read a long list of Trail Trials participants who were fallen officers over the past 20 years. A bell was tolled after each name was read.
The event continued with some instructions before horses and riders set off to the obstacles, which included an assortment of tasks with names like Bridge to Troubled Waters, which required horses to walk over a small, narrow wooden plank and through a tray filled with water and toy rubber duckies; Meet The Flintstones, which was the cart-pushing obstacle; Somewhere on the Rainbow, where the horses had to sidestep over colorful foam sticks; and Hangman, where a yellow uniform jacket slid down a line to where the horse stood.
The obstacles tested horses – and riders – in various skills.
“If I were to gather 54 people and have each person attempt to conquer some sort of obstacle, all 54 people would have different techniques, training and methods of accomplishing that particular obstacle,” said Anderson. “The same goes for these horses and riders. Like people, horses are all different. Some horses adapt to training faster and easier than others, while it may take other horses days, weeks and even months to desensitize themselves with one obstacle.”
He also says that horses are prey animals that have the instinct of fight or flight.
“When a horse is exposed to an obstacle for the first time, their immediate reaction is to flee away from that obstacle,” Anderson said. “To conquer many of these obstacles, a horse must have the trust and belief in the rider that they aren’t sending them into danger.”
A particularly challenging obstacle for some of the horses was Bridge to Troubled Waters.
“Horses have great peripheral vision, better than humans,” Anderson said. “When it comes to obstacles like this water one, a horse will often raise and lower its head while standing and staring at an object. At this point, the horse is adjusting the angle of perception it sees until the water box falls into focus. Until this happens, a horse can think 2 inches of water is really 2 feet of water. Without the trust of the rider and the proper angle of perception, a horse can have the ‘flight’ demeanor and run away from the obstacle.”
This type of challenge is how the event helps hone skills – through practice.
“When it comes to events such as this, CMOA’s goal is to help provide the tools, training and resources an officer and his equine partner need to be safe in their respective communities,” Anderson said.
1st Place Champions: Anaheim Police Department Mounted Enforcement Unit – Eric Anderson, Chris Pena, Brian Carrion, Randy Bentson
2nd Place: California Highway Patrol – Kassandra Dimaggio, Wes Fish, Trevor Fee, Brennan Moore
3rd Place: Riverside and Orange County Sheriff’s Department – Sandra Canfield, Denver Dimaggio, Nannette Loft, Rick Buffington
Overall Points Champion:
1st Place: Mo Parga, San Diego Police Department
2nd Place: Chris Pena, Anaheim Police Department
3rd Place: Eric Anderson, Anaheim Police Department
1st Place: Chris Pena, Anaheim Police Department
2nd Place: Brian Carrion, Anaheim Police Department
3rd Place: Tim Dempsey, San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office