New Times: What are the advantages of a police horse over a squad car or motorcycle?
Hildebrandt: Horses serve as a wonderful platform to raise the officer up to a greater vantage point. In parking lots or a large crowd, you can usually walk among the people. People tend to respect the horse. And as far as a PR tool, there is nothing better than a horse. The whole time I drove a black-and-white, I never once had a person ask to pet my car.
New Times: Have you ever had a horse hurt in the line of duty?
Hildebrandt: I have not, but I know of people who have. I knew an officer in New York whose horse was hit by a car and I did an appraisal for an officer whose horse had a heart attack. Normal types of things can happen—we do put these horses in harm’s way.
New Times: Can you give examples of when mounted officers are called in?
Hildebrandt: In Ventura County, we used them for any large crowd event. We also used them when we were having gang problems…it’s amazing how easily you can sneak up on somebody with a horse.
New Times: What are the differences in the training of police horses and police dogs?
Hildebrandt: The big difference is that a police dog’s training makes them do things non-doglike. A horse always acts like a horse, unless the rider has complete control. A dog will not relieve itself. A horse, when it has to relieve itself, it will relieve.
New Times: What did you like most about riding horses when you were an officer?
Hildebrandt: I used the horse to create good relations with people and leave people with good feelings about the department. I once took a horse with me to an elementary school to teach “stranger danger” and the kids just loved it.