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Police horse throws officer, frightens family in Golden Gate Park

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The San Francisco Police Department’s mounted unit was founded in 1874 and is headquartered at the Fred C. Egan Memorial Police Stables in Golden Gate Park. (Ryan McNulty 2016/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

A San Francisco police horse bucked an officer onto the pavement and galloped down JFK Drive Saturday morning, and one mother is alleging the horse nearly struck her 7-year-old daughter.

Elisabeth Snider was cycling in Golden Gate Park near the horse when it lost control, and she told the San Francisco Examiner the horse reared to its fullest height and brought its hoofs down within inches of her 7-year-old daughter.

The San Francisco Police Department confirmed the incident and said there were no injuries to either the officer who was riding the horse and thrown off or to civilians.

SFPD’s Mounted Unit boasts one sergeant, six officers and nine horses and was founded in 1874, according to the group’s Facebook page, and is headquartered at the Fred C. Egan Memorial Police Stables in Golden Gate Park. Saturday morning two officers were riding two horses in the bike lane against the flow of bike traffic.

As the horses passed in front of the Conservatory of Flowers, Snider was approaching in the bike lane with her 8-year-old daughter cycling behind her, and her two other children, aged 3 and 6, in seats attached to the front of Snider’s bike. Only as they grew closer did Snider notice how distressed the horse looked.

“It was trying to stamp around,” she said. “I got as close to the curb as I could, but the horse kept kind of freaking out. It’s doing little jumps trying to get its head away. As the horse passes us, it looks down at us and sees that we’re low and freaks out.”

That’s when the horse reared up on its hind legs, brought its hooves down “inches from my daughter,” bucked off its officer onto JFK Drive and “took off,” galloping westward towards the Academy of Sciences and causing other pedestrians to scatter, Snider said.

“If the horse had been two or three inches over she would have been crushed by this giant horse,” she said.

The incident has Snider hoping SFPD can ensure its horses and patrol officers do more to ensure the safety of civilians.

An SFPD spokesperson wrote in a statement that the horse became “alarmed by the sound of a band playing nearby.” A horse trainer told the Examiner it would be exceptionally rare for a seasoned, trained horse to react in such a way to any stimuli — especially a police horse.

“The fact that it bucked off an officer is absurd,” said Dez Doogie, a horse trainer with Mar Vista Stable in Daly City. “If this was a mounted patrol horse I would think it would be bomb proof … it should not be spooking at things.”

Doogie said the horse traveling against the flow of cyclists was likely a practice by SFPD to ensure the safety as cyclists, as it allows them to assess what’s near the horse. If a horse is bucking, she said, a rider shouldn’t try to stop it, but instead “spin it in circles.” Doogie said sometimes people buy horses from Mar Vista for police purposes and they must undergo a qualification process for that service.

“I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus, but there’s no mounted patrol horse that should be bucking and rearing at a bike,” Doogie added. “In my opinion it means the horse should go back into training.”

The SFPD could not immediately answer if the horse or officer were seasoned or newly in training. An SFPD spokesperson wrote in a statement that “horses are screened for temperament and suitability for work with the department. That being said, they are animals and sometimes get spooked by environmental stimuli.”

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