By Britney Grover
Portraits by Ruby Tevis
Captain Lisa Rakes has always been interested in police work — and doing it from horseback makes it that much more rewarding. Born and raised in Kentucky, Lisa earned her bachelor’s degree in police administration with a minor in military science from Eastern Kentucky University, where she also served in the Kentucky National Guard.
She first began mounted policing in 1996 with the Lexington Mounted Police Unit, then based out of the Education Barn at the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP). After 24 years with Lexington Police Department, Lisa became the head of KHP’s Mounted Police Department in January 2013.
Lisa’s partner is Oliver, a 13-year-old, 16.1-hand Paint/Shire cross. Together, Lisa and Oliver lead the KHP Mounted Police, monitor KHP events from the regular Parade of Breeds to the Kentucky Three-Day Event, and are ambassadors for tourists visiting the Park. In 2019, Oliver was the BreyerFest Celebration Horse with his own model, honoring him and the work he does with Lisa to protect and educate the public about both horses and police work.
What makes horses so good for police work?
Horses look to us for leadership and protection, and are so forgiving to us when we place them in the face of danger. Whether riding along the roadway with large trucks and cement mixers, chasing a dangerous felon along slick roadways or having rocks and bottles thrown at them during a riot, they truly strive to please. Oliver says, “Horses can’t talk, but they can speak if you listen.”
What’s your favorite thing about working at the Kentucky Horse Park?
Policing on horseback is a doorway to our partnership with our tourists and the Horse Park community. I cannot imagine having a job that I love doing more or work that is more rewarding than being a mounted police officer. There is no better feeling than to let my horse meet people and get and give lots of hugs and kisses from folks, especially children.
How did you come to partner with Oliver?
Oliver fit the characteristics of a Mounted Police Horse, which are a draft or draft-cross breed that is big-boned and durable but athletic in build and possesses a kind disposition. Oliver came into the Mounted Police barn as a green-broke 5-year-old but eager to please, willing to work, brave and has not looked back since. I knew that Oliver was cut out for this job when his first call as a police horse was crowd control for the Kentucky Three-Day Event. He got in position on the cross-country course to keep spectators at bay, and all he wanted to do was eat grass! He was completely unfazed with the crowd, running horses or the atmosphere.
What’s Oliver like?
Oliver makes a great partner for me because he is so forgiving and tries his hardest to please. He trusts me and checks in with me anytime he feels uncomfortable about a situation. He loves people, loves being the center of attention and is a great ambassador to the Kentucky Horse Park.
Oliver watches over the security of the Park, its visitors and horses. He is oftentimes the first horse our guests come into contact with. He has been instrumental in promoting the Park by providing demonstrations for school groups, participating in parades and other high-profile events. Oliver’s favorite part of the job would be his daily patrols around the Park when he gets to move around and meet new people.
How do you share important causes in your community, like education about horses, police work and safety?
Patrolling from horseback, KHP Mounted Police establish a dialogue with tourists and the horse community alike. This dialogue allows them to be goodwill ambassadors of the Kentucky Horse Park. Our officers provide tours of the stables, demonstrations for school groups or other audiences and participate in parades and other high-profile events.
At the Kentucky Horse Park, we hold an annual event called the National Mounted Police Colloquium. This year will be our 36th event. We have around 100 mounted police officers from all over the country come to the Kentucky Horse Park to train and compete. This event brings together people and horses from all around the country to learn new techniques, share ideas and train their amazing horses. It’s an opportunity to learn and sharpen their equitation, jumping, crowd control and sensory skills. We also offer a civilian portion to the course, including some of the same skills and sensory items but tailored to the civilian rider.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your job?
Budgets are a big challenge as money is tight in every department, but it’s a hard value to replace. We can use the horse as a way to start a conversation with a complete stranger and before you know it, the horse has created the open door for the best community policing available. No one walks up to an officer and asks to pet his cruiser. Most people see a police officer and avoid them. The horse is like a magnet. It attracts and invites folks in who want to relive the past, tell stories or just pet a horse.
What would you tell others who want to do good in their communities?
Have fun! Find something that you can volunteer or work in that is rewarding. For me, it was horses. Horses are the main reason that I love my job and enjoy coming to work — to see my co-workers, see my horses and try to make a difference in someone’s life.
Photos by Ruby Tevis