BY LYNNE HARPST KOEN
Once upon a time, there was a Polo Field in the Country Club area of Coronado Island. There were horse shows there as well, many of which were won by my mother, Frances G Harpst! Mom rode both English and Western saddle. There was also a bridle path that ran along Alameda Ave. Horses were welcome on the beach too! Ah, those were the days.
I learned to ride when I was 6. I took to it instantly, and my love affair with horses had begun. I did some barrel racing but I never rode to show.
In 2001, after 10 years working at San Diego Sheriff, my then Lt. (who was a real spitfire) flew past my desk at Ramona Station and said: “My office. Now” Lt. confirmed I owned horses. She also told me she was very impressed with my organizational skills. I sat wide eyed, as she’d never really said two words to me before! She told me she wanted me to head up a Mounted Horse Patrol unit in Ramona. It was to be the first of it’s kind in Back Country San Diego. Then she handed me a huge file marked: Procedure and Protocol, Riverside County Sheriff Mounted Patrol. She said to learn it all, and make it happen for San Diego. No pressure there!
Before I could do anything else, I had to beg the County for it’s approval. I carefully wrote up a detailed proposal, crossed my fingers, and submitted it to the County with the Lt’s blessing. Council Woman Diane Jacob was all for it, and by some sort of minor miracle we were funded and got the big OK! Next I had to recruit people into the unit, run background checks, interview, field test (horse and rider) etc. I once had to turn down a wife of one of our Deputies. That wasn’t fun. Once we had enough people for an academy class, I started designing uniforms. One for Field (Patrol) and one for Parade (Formal) Also I designed a logo for our horse blankets and special badges for our unit.
There were 10 of us at Academy. 6 men and 4 women, myself included. We were bright eyed and bushy tailed in our spiffy new uniforms! We had an “Abbreviated Academy” since we were riding horses and not driving in Patrol vehicles. On the last day of Academy, Sheriff Kolender approached me and said: “Please do us proud. We want to use your unit as a prototype for the rest of rural San Diego County.” Once again, no pressure whatsoever!
I wish I could say our first day on Patrol went well, but unfortunately it did not. Two of the older Cowboys got a bit snippy with some local ranchers and I had to call a meeting. I told them they absolutely must adhere to the regulations or we were history. The folks down at Personnel already thought we were a joke so this was the last thing I needed. Patrol went much better after that first day, but the trouble making Cowboys didn’t like me for having to dress them down. They’d come sit at the edge of my desk and make it very obvious. I just ignored them and they eventually got bored and stalked off into the sunset.
Patrol had been running smoothly and now it was time for our first Parade as a unit! We were all so proud. I was a little nervous, so I didn’t notice that my horse was gassy that day. I cinched him up but didn’t recheck him like I normally would. I mounted up and rode around a little. Just as I noticed the saddle slipping, I did an “allyoop” and landed smack in the mud! So much for that white starched shirt. I tightened the cinch again, dusted off, and remounted. Lt. said it was all very impressive, just like in the movies! The Parade went fine.
Now, 12 years later, Ramona Mounted Patrol is still going strong. Other rural Stations have started their own units as well, just like Sheriff wanted. I worked very hard and learned a lot. On August 20th, 2011 I retired from Sheriff, leaving Mounted Patrol in very capable hands.