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News (Media Awareness Project) - US TX: Horse Sense at Border Pays Off
Title:US TX: Horse Sense at Border Pays Off
Published On:2011-11-28
Source:USA Today (US)
Fetched On:2011-11-30 06:00:59

HIDALGO, Texas - Clyde knows a thing or two about men hiding.

If there's someone squatting in the bush near the Rio Grande, the
5-year-old gelding will prick up his ears, give a snort and stop in
his tracks, despite gentle rib kicks from his rider.

If people make a run for the river, he'll crash through brush and
branches after them. Or he could be quiet as a breath and walk right
up to a circle of unsuspecting smugglers.

Clyde, a lean, copper-colored mustang, is one of the latest weapons
in the struggle to tighten the U.S. border with Mexico. The U.S.
Border Patrol has used horses since its inception in 1924, but new
funds from headquarters and a federal program that captures, breaks
and donates wild mustangs is bringing more mounted patrols than ever
to the border.

"He's doing great," says Border Patrol agent Chris Garza, Clyde's
rider. "They do things ATVs and trucks just can't."

The horses come at a crucial time for the southeastern area of the
border, the Rio Grande Valley Sector, a 316-mile stretch from
Brownsville to Falcon Heights. For the fiscal year ending in
September, agents here seized more than 930,000 pounds of marijuana,
a new sector record, and arrested more than 53,000 people attempting
to enter the U.S. illegally -- more than the other two border sectors in Texas.

The high numbers are credited to increased enforcement, as well as
crackdowns on drug cartels by Mexican authorities on the other side
of the Rio Grande, says Supervisory Agent Daniel Milian, a spokesman.
As the government raids the stashes of nearby syndicates such as the
Zetas and Gulf Cartel, more drugs come north to the USA.

"This is a real old-school patrol," Milian says of the mounted
patrols. "It's a great resource to have."

In 1924, agents signing up for the newly commissioned Border Patrol
were required to bring their own horses, according to the agency.
Washington furnished a badge, revolver, oats and hay for the horses,
and a $1,680 annual salary. Uniforms came later. The mounted patrols
cased the southern border looking mostly for whiskey bootleggers and
illegal Chinese immigrants. As motorized vehicles were introduced in
1935, horses were phased out.

Horses have since been used sporadically by some sectors, but lack of
funds and support have kept their use spotty, says Supervisory Border
Patrol Agent Mary Olivares, horse patrol coordinator for the Rio
Grande Valley Sector. New money from Washington last year helped
revive mounted patrols, she says. Agents are tapping into a program
by the Bureau of Land Management that captures feral mustangs on
federal lands and sends them to prisons to be broken, she says.

Inmates at Hutchinson Correctional Facility in Kansas broke and
trained the 11 mustangs acquired by the Rio Grande Valley Sector,
Olivares says. The inmates also castrate the horses, making them
safer to handle, she says. Once at Border Patrol stables, the horses
are made accustomed to loud noises, such as gunshots, and people.

They patrol in pairs, casing the wooded bluffs along the Rio Grande
and muscling through thick brush that ATVs and pickup trucks can't
penetrate. Since arriving in July, the horses here have assisted in
arresting 355 suspects and seizing more than 1,900 pounds of
marijuana, she says.

The horses are the latest salvo in a back-and-forth chess match
between drug cartels and smugglers on one side of the border and U.S.
law enforcement on the other, says Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an
assistant professor of government at the University of
Texas-Brownsville. The horses arrived on the border just as internal
fighting within the Gulf Cartel had led to increased violence, she says.

"It's important that America shows its strength when there's some
kind of problem to the south," Correa-Cabrera says. "The horses are
symbolic. It says, 'We are here.' "

On a recent patrol, Clyde and his partner, Cash, a 3-year-old
gelding, trot down a sandy road along the Rio Grande. Their riders,
Garza and Agent Hipolito Coy, peer down at the sand looking for fresh
footprints or bent brush in a process known as "signal cutting." They
also keep a close eye on their horses, who would alert them to nearby danger.

Smugglers routinely push rafts full of cellophane-wrapped drugs
across the river, often at night, and load them into nearby cars,
Garza says. Twice, Clyde has chased smugglers through the bush and
into the river. Once, they chased a car that overturned on the narrow
roads. Overall, his horse has been involved in the seizure of more
than 700 pounds of marijuana, he says.

In August, Clyde also walked up to a group of eight illegal
immigrants near Brownsville. The group didn't hear the horse coming
and quietly gave up, Garza says. "They're looking for (Border Patrol)
trucks with green and white stripes," he says. "They're not looking
for horses."

Garza knows it won't be long before the cartels catch on and adjust
tactics. "They're smart," he says. "They'll figure it out."
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