Police horses draw tourists' delight in southern Turkey
Mounted police and their horses are providing an added attraction for tourists drawn to the beaches and ancient sites of southern Turkey.
The officers and horses of Antalya’s Mounted Police Department have become a regular sight on the city’s sands, where they have proved popular with tourists and locals, particularly children, according to Anadolu Agency.
“The people do not see us as a police department and use the opportunity [when they meet us] to pet the horses,” Nevzat Budak, the department’s deputy chief, told Anadolu Agency.
“When they pet the horses, they ask us ‘Are you police officers?’ We especially enjoy children’s interest in the horses and answer their questions.”
As well as patrolling the city’s beaches and parks, which are inaccessible to cars and motorbikes, the department’s 10 officers and horses operate at large public events such as football matches and fulfil a ceremonial role for the police during national celebrations and commemorations.
Officers joining the mounted section must be at least 180 centimeters (71 inches) tall, weigh no more than 80 kilograms (12-and-a-half stone) and be 28 or younger.
“The most important quality to have is to love the horses,” Budak said. “It is impossible to be a mounted police officer if you do not love horses.”
Mounted police have been a presence in Antalya for the past 10 years. The only other Turkish cities where they operate are the capital Ankara and Izmir on the Aegean coast.
The horses are “recruited” at the age of 2 years and usually retired at 20. They undergo rigorous training to acclimatize them to the noises of the city, such as traffic and drums, as well as potential dangers, including gunfire.
Police Officer Ali Damarcan has served as a mounted officer for 10 years.
“My love for horses comes from my grandfather,” he said. “My horse Sakarya and I have a great attachment to each other. I am not comfortable with him not being around me.”
Damarcan added: “He has become a family member to me. When I am on annual leave, I always ask my colleagues if he is OK or not.”
In addition to their patrol duties, the horses are kept in peak condition through constant training. Gallops and hurdles build up the animals’ physical qualities and the sounds of drums, police sirens and pistol shots get them used to city life.
For their riders, the reward is interaction with the public. “The children’s affection is our highlight,” Damarcan said. “Winning the children's love is winning the future.”
His colleague Erdal Akgul drew parallels to their work and the mounted Turkic warriors that settled in Anatolia centuries ago.
“Like wrestling, horse breeding is an ancestral sport for us as well,” he said.
“While we are performing our police duties, we also instil a love of horses in people as well. Tourists or citizens also come to our department to get in touch with police officers and pet horses.”