The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office also offers a free program that teaches safety techniques while horseback riding. For more information, call (770) 205-4544.
The days of the Wild West may be over, but for some members of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, saddling up is still a part of the job.
Created in 2001 as part of the sheriff’s special operations division, the mounted patrol uses specially trained horses in lakeside parks and at shopping centers in the county.
The animals are also used in search-and-rescue efforts.
The patrol’s three thoroughbred Belgian crossbreeds — Sherman, Lee and Jackson — have gone through extensive training that exposes them to all kinds of stimuli.
They can handle gunfire, smoke, sirens, bright lights, large crowds and other potentially stressful situations. They also are trained to handle various types of terrain.
The deputies who ride them work hard to establish trusting relationships with their equine partners.
“We take care of them and we’re the ones who are ultimately responsible for them,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Silveus. “If you’re not assigned to the unit, you can’t ride.”
Deputies Adam Campbell and Chris Hudson worked with Jackson and Lee during a recent Saturday at West Bank Park on Lake Lanier.
Campbell said deputies watch boat traffic and keep an eye on swimmers to ensure they haven’t ventured out too far in the water.
Although it is prohibited, the deputies said alcohol is an ongoing issue at county and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer lake parks.
“If we can keep the alcohol out of here, we don’t have as many fatalities,” Hudson explained.
Those who are caught with booze are cited and asked to leave.
While they may not seem to be a life-threatening hazard, geese are also carefully watched and shooed away from picnic areas.
At 17.5 hands high and about 1,500 pounds each, the horses were an easy distraction from the water for visitors young and old.
Forsyth County resident Cliff Mattox and his 2-year-old granddaughter, Sailor Campbell, stopped to say hello.
The little girl’s curiosity was clear, but so was her uncertainty.
“She didn’t know what to think,” Mattox said. “She’s never seen one before.”
The deputies said they often encounter people from different parts of the state — and around the world — when they’re working around the lake.
It’s not uncommon for someone to want to get a photograph with one of the horses.
In anticipation of the crowds to come, Janice Sarvis of Johns Creek came to Lanier with a group to celebrate the Independence Day holiday a little early.
As her friends attempted to light a grill for cooking, Sarvis took pictures of Jackson and Lee.
“We love it up here,” she said. “It’s real pretty … those are some pretty horses.”
Diana Martinez and her family, who came to enjoy the lake from nearby Gwinnett County, were surprised to see Jackson and Lee.
“We’ve already come three times this summer,” she said as her son, nephews and niece stood admiring the horses.
“I think they’re huge and very beautiful,” Martinez said.