Mounted lawmen

Kathy Corgatelli NeVille / for Farm & Ranch
Sheriff Blair Olsen, leads the Jefferson County Stampede parade down Rigby's main street recently. Behind Olsen, from left are Cpl. Tyler Thompson carrying the county flag, Patrolman Justin Clements carrying the Idaho state flag, Cpl. Scott Wright and Sgt. Gayla Hernandez. The five-member team makes up the Jefferson County Mounted Deputies and are helping with safety, crowd control and search and rescue around the county.

RIGBY — Horseback patrols are back in Jefferson County, primarily as a law enforcement tool but also to promote community relations, preserve Western traditions and celebrate American patriotism.

Longtime Jefferson County Sheriff, Blair Olsen, organized the team, reminiscent of a time in the Old West when the chief law enforcement officer in the county and his deputies kept the peace on horseback. Olsen is introducing his new team this summer during the county’s centennial celebrations.

“When this county was established a hundred years ago, the majority of transportation was still done with horse-drawn wagons and buggies and on horseback,” Olsen said. “I’m really excited about reviving mounted patrols in Jefferson County. We will be riding in parades a little bit more this year because of that, but we also want to preserve a little bit of our Western traditions and leave a legacy for future generations.”

Olsen and his deputies, dressed in neatly tailored uniforms, cowboy boots and hats, led the Jefferson County Stampede parade down Rigby’s main street June 21. Riding quarter horses, an Arabian and a Paso Fino, they carried the American flag, Idaho state flag and a Jefferson County flag. They were accompanied by the county’s honor guard on foot.

“Cowboys and the honor guard carrying flags in a parade is what we are all about. That in itself is showing pride in our country, and we want to display it in a way to preserve and maintain it in this country,” he said. “Our primary focus is on community safety, policing, patrolling and search and rescue, too.”

Olsen and his deputies are experienced horsemen and horsewomen who have good, solid, gentle horses who can handle unfamiliar, stressful situations, such as flashing lights, smoke bombs, fireworks, and sirens. They were Peace Officer Standards and Training-certified in January after 40 hours of intense training along with some deputies from Madison County and some Livingston, Mont., policemen.

Instructor Russ Ruschill, from the Jackson, Wyo., police department, taught the deputies horsemanship skills, teamwork between the horse and rider, officer safety, crowd control, community policing, crowd management and tactical maneuvers on horseback.

“Any horse will react to certain situations like a flag flying in their face or walking over a manhole cover, so during the training the horses were exposed to many things,” he said. “And we were trained in all kinds of tactical maneuvers include arresting and handcuffing from horseback.”

Sgt. Gayla Hernandez, an 11-year veteran of the Jefferson County Jail, is a member of the team. She rides a Paso Fino horse named Scrapper. She combined two favorite interests when she joined.

“I had ridden in the Jefferson County Posse for eight years and this was something I could do in law enforcement and with my horses, too,” she said.

Cpl. Tyler Thompson, a 10-year veteran with the sheriff’s office, said combining horses with law enforcement has been an interesting learning experience and very enjoyable.

“It’s always fun to get to ride,” he said.

Other deputies are interested in joining the team, along with many volunteers who have expressed interest. Olsen believes such teams help foster good relationships within the community, while providing law enforcement with another tool.

“Horses are an ice-breaker between the community and law enforcement. People like to come up and pet the horses and talk about them to the deputies,” he said. “I see it as a positive thing for communities.”

Not everyone agrees, including Jefferson Commissioner Brian Farnsworth.

Although the creation of the team has come with a bit of controversy, it seems to be galloping ahead.

The Jefferson County team also planned to participate in other parades. The were to ride in the Menan July Fourth parade early today, and later in the day will ride in the Hamer parade. They also were scheduled to ride in the Market Lake Days parade July 19.

“My hope is that we will be part of the Mud Lake Rodeo Parade in August, too,” Olsen said.

Gary Maples, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1004, said the new group is impressive.

“They are awesome and the horses are beautiful,” Maples said.