Meeting the Mounted Unit on Mental Health Awareness Week
Main article content
Being a police officer can be quite an experience in itself, but being one on horseback can provide a different perspective all together.
For Police Constable Karen Danks, of GMP's Mounted Unit in Chorlton, combining her love of horse-riding with her love of policing is something that makes her job unique and so worthwhile.
Born in South Africa and moved to the UK at the age of 25, Karen joined GMP as a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) on the Bury district in 2002 before serving Wigan as PC for a decade until her move to the Mounted Unit in 2015 - and despite her move from station to stables, it's a role where policing remains her primary role.
"A lot of people may think we just get on the horses and plod around like it's an easy job - it isn’t. Just because we're on horses doesn’t meant we do any less work - we're firstly a police officer and are secondly on a horse so when we're out and about and see someone committing a crime then we'll still arrest them.
"We can help with a lot of traffic prosecutions as we wear our body cameras and see a lot of people not wearing their seatbelts or using mobile phones and when they spot us they think we're a trainer or not a police officer until we speak to them.
"At larger events we're there to protect our colleagues and to protect innocent members of the public and there is a lot to take into consideration. There are so many dynamics we have to look at and it is very challenging."
Having had horses through the majority of her life, passing the 'roller coaster' 16-week training course and becoming a mounted officer nearly six years ago was something she was also destined to do in policing.
"I've always said the Mounted Unit is where I want to be in my career 'when I grow up'! Even my area bobby as a PCSO sees me now and says 'this was you used to tell me you were going to be!'
"I thought I was fit when I was joined but on the course alone I lost two-and-a-half stone and I've had deployments recently where I'm on my horse for nearly four-and-a-half hours, which is a long time for the officer and the horse. You have to be very physically fit in this role."
Speaking on Mental Health Awareness Week, Karen talks candidly about working with the horses on a daily basis and the benefits of her duty for her wellbeing, describing it as a 'relief' during the pandemic where she has been balancing work while helping to look after her mother.
"I truly believe that coming into work to be with the horses and to do my job is my release, particularly during the pandemic. The last year has been a worry but we have such a great team that are able to help each other at work which has helped."
Looking after the horses on a daily basis, as well as their joint-deployments for major public order events at their Hough End base, PC Danks and the mounted team build a strong bond with their four-legged colleagues until they retire, or sadly, pass away - an event even the 'roller coaster' could never prepare anyone for.
Police Horse Molly was one partner that Karen particularly struck a strong relationship with before she sadly died after four years of working together, something she still emotionally looks back on.
"I'd felt like I'd lost my partner, it's quite devastating, I still feel that today. I'd been with Molly for four years and we knew each other inside and out - she trusted me and I trusted her, we had that bond and that's important as every day there could be situations where I could die or my horse could die.
"It's devastating as, yes it is my job, but it's also my partner and I would think the same thing if I was in a car with an officer that I'd worked with for years and it hits me the same as we're all a family.
"Because we're all such a good team we are able to speak quite openly to one another and in this role we are all likely to go through the same experiences, good and sad, and it's so important to have colleagues that understand listen to you. That really helped."
More information about mental wellbeing can be found on the Mental Health Foundation website at www.mentalhealth.org.uk.