Police on horseback target busy Calgary parks, watch for physical distancing amid COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Police on horseback target crowded Calgary parks' Police on horseback target crowded Calgary parks
WATCH: Calgary police have issued more than 20 tickets under the public health act to people not obeying social distancing rules. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, part of the enforcement is being done on horseback – May 9, 2020

With so many kids out of school and people not going to work, Calgary parks are packed with strollers, bikes and dogs.

The Calgary Police Service Mounted Unit is keeping an eye on park users, ensuring the physical-distancing rules are followed.

READ MORE: Albertans who break coronavirus health orders could pay up to $500K fine

“A lot of people are complying with the rules,” said Const. Tory Fassnidge, who was on a patrol of Bowness Park on Wednesday.

In addition to park patrol, the Mounted Unit has been keeping watch in deserted downtown alleys, as business owners are forced to shut their doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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READ MORE: Calgary to see more enforcement officers in parks, extra waste pickup amid COVID-19 pandemic

“We have been able to focus on downtown a bit more because the residential neighbourhoods are kind of self-monitoring. Everybody is staying at home and doing their own security,” Fassnidge said.

Cst. Tory Fassnidge on Kelsey in 2017. Tory Fassnidge

He said having an equine partner immediately draws people in and makes compliance with the rules that much more palatable.

“You will find even folks that would normally shy away from the police will come and talk to us just because we are on horseback,” Fassnidge said.

It didn’t take long for a crowd to gather around the Calgary Police Service horse trailer when it pulled into the parking lot on Wednesday morning.

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“I think it’s a great idea because everybody loves the horses and we love the police so we’re going to listen,” said Joyce Fuller, who was watching the officers get ready to ride.

READ MORE: Calgary police welcome new horse to the service

High up in that saddle, it’s easy for police officers to keep a two-metre distance from admirers but COVID-19 means no more petting the horses. But that’s not a problem for people who are just happy to see animals patrolling the parks.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police welcome new horse to the service' Calgary police welcome new horse to the service
Calgary police welcome new horse to the service – Mar 21, 2017

“It’s a beautiful animal and it just adds to the beauty of this park. It’s really great to see that our police are out patrolling keeping everybody safe so we can still enjoy nature,” said park user Sue Robichaud.

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The mounted patrol said farewell to a member with the recent retirement of Kelsey, a 20-year-old Canadian breed who served for 13 years.

Fassnidge says Kelsey was a critical part of searches, including the 2019 investigation into the deaths of Jasmine Lovett and her daughter in Kananaskis, west of Calgary.

“Our horses are a draft breed and with their strong joints, they can go up and down no problem.

“Kelsey was a purebred Canadian breed and is definitely meant for that job. So when we had him last year for that search, it was an absolute benefit for us,” Fassnidge said.

Horse trainer Robin Kotulsky says Kelsey had the characteristics needed in a police horse. People friendly, calm and sturdy.

“He was a good lead horse for teaching new horses how to patrol because he just had that bold forward personality,” Kotulsky said.

“They have that breed characteristic for being very bold and brave. That’s what made Kelsey a little extra special in our hearts.”

Kelsey is now spending his retirement years in a pasture south of Calgary.

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There are currently five horses in the Calgary Police Service Mounted Unit.

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