'Intimidation factor': Why police horses are needed at protests

·News Reporter
·3-min read

While footage of Saturday's mass anti-lockdown protest through Sydney's CBD prompted widespread anger across NSW, there was one image in particular that shocked the nation. 

A 33-year-old Surry Hills man faced court on Sunday after allegedly striking a police horse during the protest – with an image of his alleged offence quickly going viral in the wake of the protests.

Thankfully, Tobruk the horse, a beloved member of the NSW Police Mounted Unit, was not harmed in the incident. 

Video broadcast across news bulletins hours after the protests showed several horses from the Mounted Unit at the heart of the chaos, often surrounded by angry protesters in what were tense scenes. 

A 33-year-old male allegedly struck Tobruk in the face. Source: AFP
A 33-year-old male allegedly struck police horse Tobruk in the face. Source: AFP

There was inevitably a strong community rebuke of Saturday's rally, with social media awash with messages of support for the horses involved, and sympathetic to the testing scenarios they faced.

Superintendent Michael Rochester, Commander of the Dog and Mounted Unit, reassured the public the horses involved have ample experience to handle the scenes witnessed on Saturday.

"Both horses and riders go through extensive training for a number of scenarios," he told Yahoo News Australia on Monday.

What do horses bring to policing during protests?

For incidences like Saturday's protests, Supt Rochester said Mounted Police can be an invaluable addition to officers on the ground.

"In a protest scenario, they’re used for crowd management, observation and assisting officers on the ground," he said.

Supt Rochester said the benefits of using horses include:

  • A superior vantage point from being on a horse

  • Improved manoeuvrability through large crowds

  • Better community engagement

  • An ability to assist general policing

Senior Sergeant Glen Potter, the head of Western Australia's Mounted Police section, told the ABC last year there was undoubtedly an "intimidation factor".

Police officers on horseback disperse protesters during a rally in Sydney on July 24, 2021, as thousands of people gathered to demonstrate against the city's month-long stay-at-home orders. (Photo by Steven SAPHORE / AFP) (Photo by STEVEN SAPHORE/AFP via Getty Images)
Mounted Police were at the heart of the protests on Saturday. Source: AFP

"People generally go, 'wow, OK, a horse' and they back off. It completely reduces the tension," he said.

"If you've got one horse, it's like having 10 coppers on the ground."

Supt Rochester said it was vital the public remembers the horses and riders are there to keep the community safe and to target unlawful behaviour.

He said he and the team were thankful for the community response to Saturday's protest.

Tobruk's gifts after Saturday's protests. Source: NSW Mounted Police
Tobruk's gifts after Saturday's protests. Source: NSW Mounted Police

"We’ve received overwhelming support from the community in recent days, with phone calls and deliveries of sweets for the horses. We’d like to thank the community for their continued support."

And for Tobruk? Well it's fair to say he's had a better Monday morning than most of us.

The 33-year-old man reportedly did not apply for bail and will front court next month.

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