Uinta County Sheriff Leonard Hysell peers down on the crowds of buckskin-clad frontiersmen and bikers gathered at the 16th annual Fort Bridger Rendezvous. So do the 14 other deputy sheriffs and police officers patrolling the state historic site.
The deputies and officers, poised for crowd control and search and rescue efforts, comprise Wyoming's first mounted police unit. The Labor Day weekend rendezvous was their first chance to strut their horses around on patrol as a group.A training course held during July in Thermopolis, Wyo., attracted representatives from four Wyoming law enforcement agencies, returning the horse to police work.
"I always hoped to have a professional law enforcement organization here in Uinta County and return some of the Western flavor" to law enforcement, said Hysell, who patrolled the three-day rendezvous atop his horse. "And believe it or not, it took a couple of New York cops to do it."
A New York State Police trooper and a Rochester police officer from the National Mounted Police Officer Training Group in Elmira taught the 5-day course that teaches how to combine good police work with good horsemanship.
"We've used horses for a long time. We just found out how to use them more effectively" for crowd control and patrols, said Hysell.
"We know how to ride, we know how to do police work; but we really didn't know how to put the two together," said the sheriff, who is overseeing the weekend onslaught of 50,000 people.
A cop on a horse, aside from being a romantic image, does more good than a fleet of patrol cars roaming.
"You're down there with the people and people immediately want contact," said Scott Terry, an officer with the Jackson Police Department, who has ridden his horse on patrol off-duty for a year.
The resort community's police department now sees officers on horseback as a good public relations tool and effective deterrent. But Terry and colleague Bob Zimmer patrol for free because they enjoy their horses.
"He's not isolated by that steel automobile," said Hot Springs County Sheriff's Capt. Dan Rewers. "I just think it's excellent for public relations and it's an excellent deterrent for its high visibility."
"It's a very effective way to do law enforcement without alienating people," said Rewers.
Hysell bristles at any comparison of the mounted officers to a posse. "A mounted police unit is a disciplined, well-organized police unit. A posse is a bunch of people" gathered to get and lynch bad guys, he said.
The sun sets over the mountains as the officers head out of Fort Bridger State Historic Site on patrol, aiming for a bar down the main drag that attracts the hundreds of bikers who gather at the largest re-enactment of the Fur Trader era west of the Mississippi.
"This is the best-kept secret in law enforcement," Rewers said.