Saddles and badges

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, October 22nd. You’re listening to WORLD Radio, and we are so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. 21st century policing.

These days, we use body cameras, facial recognition software and drones. But some departments around the country are returning to a much older method of policing: Horses!

REICHARD: WORLD Senior Correspondent Myrna Brown introduces us to a man who’s spent more than half his life helping to fuel the equine comeback.


MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: It’s lunchtime at Fitch’s IGA. More than a grocery store, this is where people in Wilmore, Kentucky, get their milk, tools, and blue plate specials. 

AUDIO: We want a chicken pot pie and two fried chicken dinners.

Harold Rainwater is one of the regulars. After lunch, we took a ride down Mainstreet, where rows of cherry blossom trees line the sidewalk.   

HAROLD RAINWATER: Mom and dad had a dime store right there. My dad had a shoe repair shop right there. Our parents owned this restaurant. 

Rainwater was born and raised in this town of 6,000. And like his parents did, the 74-year-old wears many hats. 

HAROLD RAINWATER: I’ve been mayor for 44 years. I’ve been in “horses” for about the same amount of time.

When Rainwater became mayor of Wilmore in 1976, he also started teaching at what was then Asbury College. That’s when he says he got the idea to start an equine program at the Christian, liberal arts school. 

MYRNA TO HAROLD RAINWATER: When you first presented it to the college….It wasn’t just no, it was no, emphatically because in Kentucky when you say horse, you’re basically talking about a racehorse and around a race horse is basically gambling. And Asbury just did not want that tie.

Rainwater says he understood the resistance, but he stayed focused on the bigger picture.

HAROLD RAINWATER: I just didn’t take no. I felt God had given me a call and that was to start an equine program. So I basically just went out and got some private property and started a program on the side.

He ran that program for more than a decade, often using his own money to support his fledgling equine program. Then in 1998 the college gave him permission to start operating the program from the campus—343 acres of rolling hills alongside the Kentucky River.

HAROLD RAINWATER: And so we were like taking in horses and selling a few and training a little bit and doing trail rides.  

Rainwater says student interest was slow at first. 

HAROLD RAINWATER: So I started with two minors and one dropped out. 

Still struggling to find enough income to sustain it, Rainwater pursued a proposal to rescue, train and sell unwanted foals or baby horses, headed for slaughter.

HAROLD RAINWATER: There’s just something exciting about taking an animal that nobody wanted and making them something that a lot of people want. The only thing that didn’t happen is they didn’t have the sale and they never promoted us and no one ever wanted our horses.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. In 2007, 11 students declared equine studies as their major and Rainwater got an unexpected request from the United States Border Patrol. 

HAROLD RAINWATER: Could you train some horses for us? We already own the horses, we just want them trained. I heard you had students. And they brought me two horses to train. And then another department said I heard you’re training for the Border Patrol, would you train ours, so we had another department. So that became our new little niche. 

Today more than two dozen police departments across the nation use service mounts trained by Rainwater’s students.

HAROLD: I would never have dreamed that this program would be one of the largest programs at Asbury. It would be putting police horses literally around the nation and Canada and it would be growing at the numbers. We had 40 freshmen come in last year. So we’re really blessed.

In 2014, Rainwater added a renowned horse trainer to his team. Jesse Westfall teaches students like Olivia Schnorbus and Hope Beers. Today, they’re training  King and Kaiser, three-year-old bay-colored gelding horses.

HOPE BEERS: It’s such a neat opportunity and because it’s so unique, it’s kind of hard to put in perspective what we’re doing because no one else is doing it.

AUDIO: Get it… get it

MYRNA TO OLIVIA: You say get it… what are you saying and why are you saying that? We try to encourage their curiosity and make them braver. So ever since he was little I’ve been saying that phrase,”get it” when he’s going up to an obstacle that he might think is scary. 

Everyday for the past two years Schnorbus and Beers have been using 8-inch wooden boxes and bright orange barrels to build trust and to prepare their buddies for life beyond country hills and pastures.   

AUDIO: Good boy… good job

HAROLD RAINWATER: And hopefully we’re instilling that in them. That you have a unique opportunity to train a horse that’s basically going to be working with the public for the next 15 years. And impacting how many people, how many children, how many abuse situations, how many riots, how many funerals?  So, that’s the gift you give them. Teach trust. I think that’s a life lesson you can teach and preach.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Myrna Brown in Wilmore, Kentucky.

BASHAM: One month after these interviews, King and Kaiser left Wilmore, Kentucky to begin their new life as police horses. Myrna followed them to their new home and returns next week for that part of their story.

(Photo/Myrna Brown)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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