When the supposedly immovable object of an outraged and inebriated college student meets the practically irresistible force of a horse, the outcome is inevitable.

When the supposedly immovable object of an outraged and inebriated college student meets the practically irresistible force of a horse, the outcome is inevitable.

The horse wins.

"If we come up and tell you to move, you're going to move," said officer Denise Ferguson of the Columbus Division of Police Mounted Unit. "They can really work a crowd."

Seated atop her horse, Tony, Ferguson and fellow Mounted Unit officer John Shoopman, astride his "partner," Riley, gave a presentation last week at the Strategic Response Bureau on Morse Road to the coordinators of Block Watch programs from throughout the Northland area.

The unit currently consists of five officers and a sergeant, according to Ferguson. They have eight horses at the moment, although retirement is imminent for two of them, she said. All of these horses have been donated, she added; the city hasn't purchased one since 2001, although she said it would be nice if funds were available to get a well-bred animal capable of accepting the rigorous training they require.

"What we do is pretty averse to what a horse wants to do," Ferguson said.

That includes wading into, as opposed to running away from, an unruly mob during a riot or other form of civil unrest or, in the case of a glorious victory or ignominious defeat for the Ohio State University football team, gangs of students who have either celebrated or commiserated more than was perhaps good for them.

"A lot of it is they just kind of figure out, 'OK, my rider is telling me it's safe,'" Ferguson said.

Crowd control is the main function of the Mounted Unit, although it's not just for crowds that are out of control, she indicated. The horses and their riders turn out to assist at downtown festivals and large gatherings, such as the Red, White and Boom fireworks show.

Although crowd control, and a bit of public relations, might be the unit's main function, most of the time for horses and riders is devoted to patrol, Shoopman told the Block Watch leaders.

"We're just like the cruiser out on the street," he said.

Only friendlier.

"People who would never come up to an officer in a cruiser come up to us all the time," Ferguson said.

A member of the division since November 1992, Ferguson said no one ever asked to take her picture when she was on normal patrol, but that's become routine in the years since she joined the Mounted Unit.

"They're like the firemen of the police department: Everybody loves them," community liaison Officer Scott Clinger told the coordinators, half in jest.

The horses and riders are on patrol especially during special situations, Shoopman said. He specifically mentioned a series of home invasions that plagued German Village a few years ago. Members of the Mounted Unit could spend time in alleys at 3 in the morning and, from their vantage point, look over privacy fences into yards, he added. Horses hear much better than people, he said, and their ears rotating like hairy radar installations alert the rider to something moving in the silence of an early morning.

Members of the Mounted Unit also participate in searches for missing children and older adults who have wandered away from home, Ferguson said, as well as searches for evidence, according to Shoopman.

"They get excellent care," Ferguson said, patting Tony on his supple neck. "He's my buddy.

"They're a police officer, just like a K-9."

Once or twice a year, someone, usually someone quite drunk, will come out of a crowd and think it might be funny to take a punch at a police horse.

"They go to jail," Ferguson said.

"And the funny thing is, the horse never moves," Shoopman put in.

The Mounted Unit program costs the city about $25,000 a year, aside from the salary of the humans, Ferguson said.

In addition, free manure is offered at the unit's facility near the intersection of McKinley Avenue and Fisher Road, she added.

"Bring a bucket," Shoopman advised.