By: Erin Shea, @BH_EShea
Often we hear stories of off-track Thoroughbreds winning hunter/jumper classes, competing in the upper levels of eventing, and even taking home prizes in barrel racing competitions, but it's not as common to see them become police mounts, typically a job that's reserved for warmbloods or draft crosses.
One such off-track Thoroughbred is SSO Valor, who has been a part of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office in Sarasota, Fla. for the last 14 years. Registered with The Jockey Club as Raja's Best Dancer, the 23-year-old Texas-bred son of Raja's Best Boy compiled a record of 2-1-1 from 18 starts, mostly in claiming races. Although racing wasn't his strong suit, the former runner found his niche as a police mount and recently earned the 2017 Thoroughbred Incentive Program Thoroughbred of the Year award for his work. Valor, who was donated to the department from an individual who wanted to find a good home for him, is thriving in his second career.
"Valor is good at his job. Although we ride in pairs, he is one of the few horses we can take out by himself," said police Sgt. Chris Laster, supervisor of the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Mounted Unit. "He often does demos and works pretty stressful events that require his calm demeanor and patience."
Police Deputy Kelli Collison and SSO Valor. Courtesy of Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office
While Laster said the unit will typically look for a warmblood as a potential mount, Thoroughbreds with the right personality can do the job.
"We generally look for warmbloods or warmblood crosses with a dressage background, since all of our police riding techniques are dressage based," Laster said, adding that the unit has used other Thoroughbreds in the past.
"Thoroughbreds can be good police mounts. It all depends on their training and experience. They must however, have somewhat of a naturally calm demeanor and be teachable and tolerant to a wide variety of stimuli. Thoroughbreds can be easy to come by because there are so many retired racehorses. They are also very athletic and have the stamina we need to work long hours in warmer weather.
However, as with most off-the-track horses, rushing into a second career and pushing a horse too soon is not ideal.
"Because of their breeding, it is best to train them at their own pace and avoid shortcuts or take them for granted," Laster said. "It is best to give them a solid foundation in dressage. Getting a Thoroughbred straight off of the track could take a couple of years of training and exposure to make them a suitable police mount."
Although Valor works a number of big events in the area— he's helped with a Super Bowl, a number of college football games, and a Republican National Convention—he also participates in the Sarasota County Sheriff's Activities League SADDLES program, giving at-risk children the opportunity to learn about horse care.
"I have so many great memories with Valor as does anyone who has ridden him," Laster said. "My fondest memories are when he won a silver medal in equitation at the First Responder Games in 2009. The mounted deputy riding him had never competed before, so it was great that they placed that well out of more than 70 competitors. Other fond memories include working with him at demos and with the SADDLES program, making kids of all ages smile."
"Valor has served with distinction his entire career at the sheriff's office, and everyone who has worked with him has been honored and thankful to do so. He is an ambassador, not only for mounted police units, but also for retired racehorses."