Despite the loss of two of their horses lately, the Eaton County Sheriff’s Mounted Division is still viable, and back to work. “Dillan was a great horse,” said Sergeant Jeff Rutter, who joined the division in 2013 with Dillan. “I’m going to miss him. But death is a part of life.”
Dillan, age 21, was a Rocky Mountain Horse and passed away on January 12. Dillan had undergone extensive training in his duties, and often led the unit in training and patrols for Eaton County.
Thor, a Belgian/Tennessee Walker, died January 23 at age 19. Thor joined the unit in 2018 and was ridden by Steve Funk. He was a great guard during parades and loved the challenges of doing patrol in the parks, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Many big-city mounted divisions have been eliminated due to budget cuts, but Rutter, who is the president of the division, says he doesn’t see that happening here in Eaton County. Budget cuts cannot affect the group, he explained, because they are self-funded; county funds are not used to maintain, train, or equip the horses. The Mounted Division serves at the sheriff’s discretion, and currently, they have the full support of Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich, Rutter explained.
The officers are volunteers, and all have full-time jobs elsewhere. They are sworn in as special deputies with the Eaton County Sheriff Department.
“We do it because we want to do it, and we enjoy serving the community,” Rutter said. “It’s nice to be able to give both kids and adults the chance to meet a real horse; not everyone has had that opportunity.”
Each officer provides his own horse and all necessary equipment, transportation, and other costs, including special training associated with it. There is an annual fundraiser, a country music show, and the proceeds of that help defray some of the costs of the division. The Mounted Division is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
The Mounted Division is used in parades, for security, and crowd control, along with search and rescue situations.
Training is essential to keep the horses in good shape and to desensitize them to distractions like loud noises, smoke and fire, commotion, garbage bags blowing, and other things that often spook a horse. They attend clinics around the nation, including the National Mounted Police Colloquium at the Kentucky Horse Park where the horses and riders compete in uniform, equitation, and obstacle courses.
The horses have proven to be highly effective in crowd control. The rider sits at an elevated vantage point and can see more of the situation around them. A horse can often make its way through crowds better than a motorized vehicle can, and often can venture into areas that a police car might not be able to, Rutter explained.
A well-trained horse contributes to positive public relations for the police, Rutter added. An example of this, Rutter pointed out, is the Stuff a Cop Car event, which is an annual food drive held at various grocery stores in Eaton County. The horses are brought to the event and draw people in to see and pet them–then donate food to a good cause.
Volunteers are always welcome to join the group. You must be over 21 years of age. A background check, a driving record check, and a credit check will be run on you due to the nature of the work. You will be invited to bring your horse to a training session where you will learn the expectations. To get more information contact the Eaton County Sheriff’s Department at 517-543-3512, or you can visit them on Facebook or their website at eatoncounty.org/356/Office-of-the-Sheriff.