Aiken Public Safety begins training volunteers for new mounted unit

August 24, 2018

The Aiken Department of Public Safety held the first training this past weekend for the agency’s newest addition – the Aiken Volunteer Mounted Unit.

In years past, the agency had a mounted unit with officers who were able to enforce the law within the City of Aiken. Currently there is no functioning unit.

As many as 15 volunteers and 12 horses attended training at the Great Oak Aiken Therapeutic Riding Center, 1123 Edgefield Highway.

Nicole Pioli, program and volunteer coordinator with Great Oak, said she believed a volunteer mounted unit would be great for the community and offered the center’s farm as a place for the volunteers to practice and train.

The training was conducted over the weekend by Deputy Mark McCarter, with the York County Sheriff’s Office. McCarter is the supervisor of the Mounted Patrol Unit in York County and has competed numerous times at the North American Police Equestrian Championships, where he recently took home the Brigadier Memorial Trophy.

McCarter had the volunteers circle around him in an arena, and he showed the group different techniques to begin their training.

Aiken Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco and Lt. Karl Odenthal were also present Saturday to welcome the new volunteers.

“Aiken Public Safety and the City of Aiken are so excited to embark on this cooperative effort of a volunteer mounted unit,” Barranco said.

The group will be an independent nonprofit that will work in support of Aiken Public Safety and the agency’s Honor Guard.

“The unit will hold a ceremonial function,” Barranco said. “There is no law enforcement component to this, but, of course, the volunteers will be able to have their eyes and ears open just like everyone else in the community. We also hope this sparks some interest within the community.”

When acting as a unit, the group will be under the direction of Lt. Brian Key, who currently oversees the Aiken Public Safety Honor Guard Unit.

“This is great opportunity, and I think these volunteers will blend in well with our Honor Guard,” Key said.

The volunteers are people from the local area and most are accomplished riders who volunteered their time to be part of the unit. They are training and riding their own horses.

“Even though most of these volunteers are very accomplished riders, it’s a different approach when riding a horse in public opposed to riding one through the woods,” Odenthal said. “This training helps these volunteers deal with that different environment that many riders may just not be used to.”

The idea behind this new unit was put together by Carol McElwee, president of the Aiken Volunteer Mounted Unit and a liaison with Aiken Public Safety.

″(Barranco) and I have been talking about getting a mounted patrol going again for about six years,” McElwee said. “The idea of a volunteer unit came up and it was all about timing and support. Aiken Public Safety could not have been more supportive of the idea.”

McElwee said the volunteers came after she got the word out to members of the horse riding community about starting this mounted unit. She said after word spread, those who were interested in supporting a mounted unit came forward.

“We ended up with a good group of riders from all walks of life,” she said. “Some are Western, some do English riding, some are Western-trail – it’s all kinds of riders coming together to make this work.”

Once their training is complete, the Aiken Volunteer Mounted Unit will start coordinating with the Honor Guard for community events like parades and celebrations.

For more information about how to donate to the unit, or how to participate with the group, email Carol McElwee at cmcelweecmpa@aol.com.

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