01 October 2014

The Malta Police Mounted Section

 - Saturday, 18 September 2010, 00:00

by Anthony Zarb Dimech

The earliest historical references to mounted police can be traced to King Charles’ Articles of War, published in 1629. The British model of mounted policing was introduced to its colonies during the heyday of the British Empire in the nineteenth century. During this era mounted forces were utilised in Africa, the Middle East, India, Canada, and the Pacific colonies, where the tradition flourished until the introduction of the automobile. In addition to the British model, a ranging tradition of policing developed in Texas with the Texas Rangers. It was most influential on its neighbours in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. An early example of specialised policing, mounted forces have seen a revival in recent years, albeit in an urban setting rather than a colonial or frontier environment.

I asked Mr Cauchi of Gudja to give an outline of the Mounted Section in Malta. Mr Cauchi has been researching the Malta Police Mounted Section for quite some time and has amassed valuable and rare information and items connected with this important police section including medals, photos, Christmas cards, profiles of members of the Section and also uniforms. There is the possibility that in the future all his research will be published in book form.

The main four branches of the Malta Police Force are the Criminal Investigation Department, Security, Special Assignment Group and the Traffic branch. The Mounted Section forms part of the Traffic branch.

The Police Mounted Section functions cover a wide range of activities from riot control at public meetings and sports events to the escort of top level dignitaries and for horse shows and other ceremonies. On past occasions mounted police took part in funerals of Maltese prominent people such as Dr Enrico Mizzi and also took part in important religious events.

The Malta Police Mounted Section is the oldest branch of the Police Force having been established in 1859. This section was initially housed at the Sacra Infermeria (now, Mediterranean Conference Centre) in Valletta and in Santa Venera. At the beginning of the Second World War the section was stationed at Moore Stables in Marsa where the Polo horses were kept. On Saturday, 26 June 1940 at 1.30pm, the stables were hit during an Italian aerial bombardment with the back left side of the building collapsing. One of the Section’s members PC 284 Lucrezio Cassar and his horse lost their lives in this incident. Subsequently, the Mounted Section was temporarily divided in two separate sub-sections, one at Mr Angelo Ciangura’s stables in Rabat and the other at St George’s stables in Qormi. Inspector Edward Brooks was the Officer in Charge at the time. The stable was re-constituted after the war was over and re-opened in early 1945.

To illustrate the detail of Mr Cauchi’s research, he described to me a fatal accident which happened on 26 February 1902 in Zabbar during the feast of Hadd in-Nies. Saverio Bugeja was born in 1883 in Valletta and enlisted in 1 April 1902 with Posting Number 412 in the Mounted Section. On 26 February at Zabbar he suffered a brain laceration caused when the horse bolted and he was thrown to the ground. He was taken to the central hospital where he died on 28 February. He was buried with ceremonial honours at the Addolorata Police Graves and in 1951 his remains were transferred to the family grave.

Another snippet is the one regarding Police Sergeant Giuseppe Salizia of the Police Mounted Section who received the Royal Victorian Medal for having escorted H.M. King Edward VII and Governor Sir Charles Mansfield Clarke in 1903 who were riding in a carriage during the King’s Royal visit to Malta.

Presently the Mounted Section has about 21 horses and the stables are situated at Racecourse Street, Marsa. The horses have their names starting with the letter R and the reason is that the surname of the present Police Commissioner starts with the letter R (Rizzo). The horses have the police officer’s rank of inspector whilst dogs in the Police Dog Section have the rank of Sergeant. A newly recruited police offer in the Mounted Section is allotted with a relatively older horse to expedite training and once a police officer is allotted his own horse he is to train, wash and feed him. It is only in emergency cases that the horse can be used by another rider. The reason being that the horse should only be under the care of its trainer.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Mounted Sections is that the meticulous and intensive selection and training process for the mounted officers are equalled by that undergone by their horses.

A half- or three-quarter bred animal has been found to be best suited to police work, combining the spirit of a thoroughbred with the strength and stability of a draught horse. The training is usually individualised for each horse, and usually lasts six months. The training is separated into three stages Red, Amber and Green.

In the Red stage the basics are established and the horse is asked to stand still, be calm and polite, have generally good stable manners, be loaded onto and off boxes several times. It is generally established if the horse is suitable to move onto the next stage of training.

The Amber stage takes the development a little further introducing the horse to new environments, be able to go through water and to stand and move correctly, be mounted from the ground accepting a riding mac and quarter sheet. At least two months prior to issue, the horse will be issued a full uniform kit and be ridden in both saddle and headkit; it will also be introduced to a stall. Most importantly the horse will be taught to stand calmly in normal conditions allowing the officer to deal with public enquiries or incidents.

The Green stage is the final stage before the horse is issued to an officer out on duty. The horse is asked to patrol on more than one occasion, be able to stand and move forward accordingly in congested traffic from all directions and will have been ridden in the dark. The horse at this stage is also introduced to mini disc recordings of Military bands, crowds and trains all in a controlled environment. Also in the Green stage, the horse is taken out into the open to continue its work with specially developed exercises teaching, for example, the lateral movement into crowds, which is the safest and most effective method of crowd control for both the horse and the public.

At all times, the greatest care is taken to maintain a system of training based on encouragement and reward. This produces a well-balanced, obedient animal that is accustomed to all the conditions in which it will have to work.

After the successful completion of all three stages the horse is then issued to a suitably trained officer. The training continues and the horse is given the title of a “remount”. All being well the horse is slowly introduced to more challenging situations including low category football matches, escorting the Military and tasked patrols.

At the successful completion of the horse’s training it is made ‘Operational’ and can be used for many of the demanding roles that the modern Mounted Branch is engaged in.

Anyone who might have any information on the history of the Malta Police Mounted Section may kindly write to the author on [email protected]

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