When she became an Orange PD officer 22 years ago, Tina Dunneback told herself if the agency ever were to form its own Mounted Unit, the longtime horse lover would be the first to sign up.
Dunneback no longer is saddled with wishful thinking.
The Orange PD recently formed its own Mounted Unit, an idea that has been floated around the agency for years — and one that makes sense, given the city’s association with the large horsing community of Orange Park Acres. And Dunneback, now a detective working economic crimes, has been selected as one of the four officers on the new unit, which will start deploying as a team in September after a week of training that month.
“Any day when you can work on a horse is a great day,” said Dunneback, who recently joined her colleagues in Norco — Sgt. Dave Natividad, School Resource Officer Sarah Costa, and Officer Dan Yakel — for the unit’s first official training session as members of the Orange County Regional Mounted Enforcement Unit.
“This new unit comes at a minimal cost to our agency, and we’re grateful that the City Council approved this new unit, which will be a great asset to the community,” OPD Chief Tom Kisela said.
Orange is the seventh agency on the regional unit, joining officers, sergeants and deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Buena Park, Huntington Beach and Newport Beach Police Departments.
Members of the O.C. Regional Mounted Enforcement Unit train together once a month and work together at large-scale events. The unit can field more than 60 mounted officers to address crowd-control needs throughout the county.
In June 2016, Orange PD Chief Tom Kisela and his command staff announced that the agency would be forming a Mounted Unit.
Soon after that announcement, Dunneback purchased Dudley, a 7-year-old Morgan, and started riding again. (With the exception of the HBPD, officers who are members of the O.C. Regional Mounted Enforcement Unit privately own their horses, paying for all their expenses).
Until recently, Natividad was the lone member of the unit.
A patrol sergeant and member of the Orange PD SWAT team, Natividad underwent one-week training last September as a member of the California Mounted Officers Association (CMOA). Since then, he’s been deployed a couple of times in other O.C. cities with his horse, Maximus, a grey, 10-year-old American Quarter Horse.
Like Dunneback, Natividad — who rode horses recreationally as a teenager but until recently had been too busy with work and with raising, along with his wife, Carol (a retired OPD detective), three children to ride much — was excited by the news OPD was forming a Mounted Unit.
The near 30-year OPD veteran first leased a horse for five months from an Anaheim PD officer who got injured and couldn’t ride for a while before he purchased Maximus late last year.
In January, the OPD officially signed on as a member of the O.C. Regional Mounted Enforcement Unit.
In April, Natividad, Dunneback, Costa and Yakel met off duty with their horses for the first time to be evaluated and instructed by Anaheim PD Officer Eric Anderson, a member of that agency’s mounted unit and a board member of CMOA.
In mid-May, the OPD quartet spent the day in Norco meeting and training with riders on the O.C. Regional Mounted Enforcement Unit.
Part of the training includes exposing the horses to loud noises to keep them from becoming spooked or distracted — trait they’ll need when sent out on assignments, such as for crowd management.
Unlike high-energy police K9s, horses are trained to remain calm, Natividad said.
The training in Norco went well, OPD officers said.
“Just to be out here with other regional mounted unit officers, and seeing how everyone moves their horse, is a very good learning tool,” said Costa, whose horse, Danny Boy, is an 18-year-old American Quarter Horse.
“I was eyes open, ears open, mouth closed,” Costa said. “There was a lot to learn.”
Added Costa, who rode horses when she was young: “I’m ready to go. I’m excited.”
Dudley, Dunneback’s horse, is the youngest member of the horse team.
“He did really well,” Dunneback said. “I was nervous, but I think we all were. But we’ve been working really hard to get here, and I think so far, so good.”
Natividad said the Mounted Unit — Yakel’s horse is Beau, a 13-year-old American Quarter Horse — will be a great asset for the OPD.
“Like anything else,” he said, “this is designed to enhance our service to the community. And the horses serve a great public relations function, too.”
Added Dunneback: “It’s amazing that our chief has allowed us to have this team and represent the city and our police department.”
Anderson said it was very rewarding to help the OPD start its Mounted Unit.
“To see the (OPD officers’) dedication, excitement and strive for excellence is a testament to the importance of training and teamwork a unit must have to be successful,” Anderson said. “Sgt. Natividad and his team of officers are realizing that training and trust go hand in hand. I’ve emphasized the importance of the relationship each officer must have with their horse.
“Much like training a new dog, the horse needs to respect and trust you in the same manner. Although horses are primarily used for crowd-management situations, the Orange PD appreciates the fact their new equine partners can be used to help detour criminal activity through directed enforcement, patrols and community-engagement opportunities.”
Steven Georges contributed to this story.