All Horses Spook Sometime

An incident with a seemingly bombproof police horse illustrates that every horse has the propensity to spook sometimes.

Even with intense training, horses can still be spooked
Police horses undergo intensive desensitization training to make sure they are dependable, unflappable mounts. Photo: Moira C. Harris

To those who read the story or heard it on the network news, it sounded like a case of “When Good Horses Go Bad.” A veteran San Francisco police horse, ridden by an experienced mounted patrol officer, spooked and ran amok. During his gallop, he knocked down a 78-year-old man who suffered fatal head injuries as the result of falling to the ground. Yet once the details of the saga were revealed, horse owners and riders everywhere expressed the sentiment that every horse spooks at something, sometime.

The horse at the center of the incident is an 11-year-old gelding named Seattle. Seattle and his rider were part of a two-man mounted unit patrolling the parking lot and streets surrounding Candlestick Park on the evening of Friday, August 29. A San Francisco 49ers football game was in progress, and the officers’ presence was meant to thwart a spate of recent car burglaries.

According to reports, a plastic bag, picked up by a gust of wind, became stuck on Seattle’s bridle. Naturally, the horse began to toss his head, shake his neck and whirl, all in an attempt to flee the offending bag. Seattle’s rider leaned forward from his saddle and reached down, trying to pull the bag off the bridle. Somehow horse and rider butted heads, causing them both to stumble and fall in a heap.

The officer was not injured, however, Seattle spooked and took off running through the parking lot. First he ran into one pedestrian who wasn’t harmed. But the horse then slammed into the older gentleman, causing his fatal injuries. A bystander was able to capture Seattle, and the horse’s fate as a member of San Francisco’s mounted patrol unit is still pending.

Police horses undergo intensive desensitization training and participate in clinics where they undergo dress rehearsals of all sorts of potential scenarios. Whether it’s chasing a suspect or exacting crowd control during a riot, a horse must be evaluated and certified before it’s allowed to wear a badge. Seattle was such a horse. Nonetheless, when placed in a specific predicament, he still resorted to behaving like a horse.

Whether the entire accident could’ve been prevented has yet to be determined. But it just proves that there truly is no such thing as a 100-percent bombproof horse. That’s an important lesson to keep in mind when trail riding. If a seasoned police horse can bolt and run, the average riding horse can also give in to that instinctive flight response. And it usually happens when you least expect it.


  1. I agree. All horses spook sometime, even if it is super trained. We even “spook” too. All it was was an accident. I feel sorry for the man, but i was an accident!

  2. Dont be to hard on the horse. He deserves another chance to be a useful asset to his department.All horse spook at one time or another. Horse are not 100% bomb proof. I dont care how much training they get. I know first hand how it happens.

  3. how can you expect a horse not to be a horse?? flight is a horses #1 instinct! just because 1 thing happens shouldnt mean he gets laid off!


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