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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Militia Rides High in the Saddle

Moscow's horseback militia battalion, about to celebrate its 75th anniversary, has a rare privilege conferred upon it: It is probably the only police unit that enjoys public sympathy.

Whenever a horseback policeman is seen in the streets, smiling people invariably gather around the horse despite the policeman's dark-grey uniform that is often regarded with public hostility

Organized in 1918, the militia cavalry battalion today has 150 men and 105 horses.

Horses are chosen according to their colors: they should be either grey, or chestnut, or dark-bay and black to match in pairs.

Requirements for the all-male battalion are not as strict as tor the animals.

"We try to take in people who already have some experience with horses", said Pyotr Mulyk, former veterinarian and now commander of the battalion.

"Often they think it is beautiful to sit on a horse, but they are put off when they have to clean horses and scrape out manure", he continued, adding that it is also difficult for the cavalrymen to learn to ride in Moscow's traffic.

"We have two major functions", explained Mulyk, "First, our men monitor city parks and forests. Our second function is to control crowds at big sports events and concerts. We make walls with the horses to organize movement of people". Horses, he noted dryly, work better for crowd control than cars which can be overturned easily.

The horseback militia can often be seen near Kievsky train station, at Ulitsa 1905 Goda, and at the Luzhniki flea market. A usual detachment comprises two men on horses of the same color. The men are armed, carry rubber truncheons, and are equipped with walkie-talkies for communication in serious criminal cases. Unlike some dogs, horses perform no miracles in their police work: they do not sniff out drugs or rescue people from burning houses. Mulyk stressed that the horse is only as good as the policeman who is riding it.

Horses are brought in from the age of three and serve until a maximum age of 18. Many of them have to retire before the age limit because of orthopedic problems. Asphalt is hard on horse's feet.

Some horses become very nervous, Mulyk said, often because of the behavior of stadium crowds. He said young fans sometimes put out their cigarettes on the side of a horse or throw homemade bombs at them.

"But we never send our retirees to meat plants", he said, adding that "they go to horseback-riding schools. There are waiting lists to get our horses, because they are well trained and usually calm".

Besides their direct functions in maintaining street order, the battalion is also distinguished in sports. Sergeant Igor Isayev, 27, and his horse Ingas, 8, have successfully participated in Russian and international competitions.