The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office Mounted Patrol Unit starts its 16th holiday season Friday with a long day in the saddle, according to Sheriff Robert Arnold.
"Sgt. Jon Levi and his officers will start the day patrolling The Avenues Mall, and perhaps other shopping areas, mid-morning Friday," the sheriff said. "They'll finish up at the Tennessee state football semi-finals at Oakland High where the Patriots will face off with Maryville that night."
Thing won't slow down much for the officers on horseback until the holidays are over, Arnold says.
"In October alone, the mounted patrol worked 21 events ranging from demonstrations for groups to crowd control at a number of outdoor events," the sheriff said. "A number of events and activities will occur before the New Year."
Begun in 1998 with mounts donated by Tennessee Walking Horse breeders, the unit has now almost completed transition to a larger breed: the Percheron.
Percherons were developed in northern France and Normandy as warhorses in the Middle Ages. The large and docile breed transformed into prized draft, carriage and saddle horses over the centuries.
Percherons range from 15 to 19 hands and weigh between 1,900 and 2,600 heavily muscled pounds, Sgt. Levi said.
Each "hand" measures four inches, so the tallest Percherons can be 6-foot-4 inches tall at the top of their shoulders.
"My mount is 18.1 hands at the withers and weighs 2,100 pounds," Levi said. "We have eight horses in service now, six Percherons and two Walking Horses."
Percheron breeders donated the newer mounts, and two more have just arrived that will soon begin specialized training as law enforcement mounts.
Over the last decade and a half, the Mounted Patrol has worked hundreds of public events like the Smyrna Air Show,Friday Night Live on the Public Square, Uncle Dave Macon Days, Christmas and other parades and football games.
"We're often called out for manhunts, missing children, or to search for Alzheimer's or dementia patients who've strayed away," Levi said. "We patrol the trails along the Stones River, too, during the main riding season.
The mounted unit currently has four officers, with four more officers in training to soon take the reins, Sheriff Arnold said.