MCSO Mounted Unit

Sgt. Ron Willis is in charge of the MCSO Mounted Unit.

Saddled up high above the ground, members of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Mounted Unit provide a unique resource to the sheriff’s office by patrolling difficult terrain, assisting in search and rescue, and engaging with the community at events.

The MCSO Mounted Unit was established in 2000 and in just a few years, it boasted more than 40 members.

However, numbers have dwindled to about six active members over the years, and now the mounted unit is looking for citizen volunteers.

“This is a community and we want it to be a better place, so if we can help the sheriff department by volunteering, why not?” said Jim Huggins, a volunteer with the unit since 2000.

Now retired, Huggins joined the unit after careers with the Salinas Police Department and Monterey County District Attorney’s Office.

Huggins started riding horses as a child, and about 32 years ago, bought his first horse.

MCSO Mounted Unit

Sgt. Ron Willis is in charge of the MCSO Mounted Unit.

Since then, he’s been on many horseback adventures, including a ride through the Sierra Nevada region where he covered 88 miles in seven days when he was 60.

He said volunteering with the Mounted Unit can be a rewarding and interesting experience.

“It’s fulfilling and doing good for the community,” Huggins said.

The mounted unit often serves as a community engagement tool as the unit is featured in parades, festivals and educational events.

In some instances, about 900 children may get a chance to interact with the mounted unit’s horses in just one day such as during Monterey County Farm Day, Huggins said.

Many people have never seen a live horse up close, and events like this give people an opportunity to not only see and touch the animal but also get to know the sheriff’s department better, he added.

“Kids love to come up and see them,” Huggins said. “We’re not just people who arrest people, and hopefully the kids who see a deputy on horseback remember them the next time they see a deputy.”

MCSO Mounted Unit

Members of the first MCSO Mounted Unit often do community outreach events to give people experience with horses.

The MCSO Search and Rescue Unit may also call on the Mounted Unit for assistance.

In 2001, the Mounted Unit had its first official call out when it responded to help find a missing 90-year-old Alzheimer’s patient at a sizable ranch property off Carmel Valley Road.

The man had been out in the wilderness for two days in low temperatures, and the Mounted Unit quickly began conducting a search on various types of terrain.

Patrol on horseback can often be advantageous since you get a completely different type of sight advantage that includes above and around areas that might not be caught by helicopter patrol, Huggins said.

With strong hearing and sight senses, horses can alert the rider to people in the area that they may have not otherwise picked up on. Horses also have the capability to cover a wide array of terrain and can be a visual deterrent when out on patrol in areas such as Toro Park.

The Mounted Unit located the missing Alzheimer patient tucked under some brush during that first callout, and they have been out on numerous cases since.

The Mounted Unit includes law enforcement as well as volunteer citizens from various backgrounds.

Members are required to be 21-years-old or older, have access to a trail-worthy horse that could pass a sensory test, and have good basic horsemanship skills, said MCSO Sgt. Ron Willis who is in charge of the unit.

Those who become members of the unit would receive the training needed to assist with observation patrol.

Mounted patrols are becoming increasingly rare, and Sheriff Steve Bernal has expressed strong support for the MCSO Mounted Unit, Willis said.

“It’s becoming a thing of the past, especially in a law enforcement role … A lot of mounted units have disbanded because of budgetary constraints,” Willis said. “It’s about educating the youth about horses and trying to keep that Western heritage alive at the same time.”

MCSO Mounted Unit

Members of the first MCSO Mounted Unit as they do a training exercise.

The MCSO Mounted Unit is not to be confused with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Posse, which is a nonprofit organization that has a facility on Old Natividad Road where various events are hosted throughout the year.

“On horses, you have the heart of pretty much everyone. It’s fun for people to see and takes them back to the old days,” Willis said. “It’s for people who want to give back and what better way than with a horse?”

Anyone interested in participating in the MCSO Mounted Unit can contact Sgt. Ron Willis at 831-796-1137. Visit the “Monterey County Sheriff’s Mounted Unit” Facebook page for information on the unit’s activities.

Article and Photos appeared in The Californian.
LINK TO THE CALIFORNIAN ARTICLE