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June 2, 2012

Riot Horse. (Photo by Nina Berman.)

This photo was taken by Nina Berman during the recent NATO summit demonstrations in Chicago. Because we’re used to thinking about horses wearing blinders, not “visors” or “shields,” the image creates some cognitive dissonance.

I wonder, though, how much the strategy here is largely perceptual — outfitting the animals to provide a futuristic and intimidating four-legged front. (Notice the “riot cool,” by the way, the black-and-white band holding the top of the horse’s mask in place matching the band on the robo-cop’s bicep.)

But the shield must be for protection, right? That’s what the riot cops wear the face shields for. Unless the mask is only to block the random bottle or paint missile, however, doesn’t it presuppose that demonstrators would be looking to hurt the horses? Hmm, somehow I doubt that.

Finally, given the capacity of the new security state to consume tax dollars, I was also wondering… how much does a police horse visor cost, anyway?

UPDATE: Cjd1952 below raises the obvious issue involving the horse’s well being:

You don’t have to target a horse for it to get hurt.  In a melee anything can happen, on purpose or not.  I’m glad they protect their horses.

But (honest question), why would police put a horse in the middle of a riot anyway — especially if they were concerned it would endanger the animal? And what are the ethics of putting the animal in harms way? Obviously, the human consents to the task.

PHOTOGRAPH by Nina Berman/Noor.

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for BagNews here.

  • Paul

    The photo doesn’t say anything (and is very bad) only that the person who’s written it has never been in a riot.

    • Paul

       The person who’s written the text below it I meant.

  • Cjd1952

    You don’t have to target a horse for it to get hurt.  In a melee anything can happen, on purpose or not.  I’m glad they protect their horses.  I just wish the cops were there to keep things orderly, not to start riots.

  • VW

    It doesn’t look like equestrian armor is all that expensive…

  • Scarabus

    I commented on this post, including a comparison to a mounted medieval knight. To have put it here would have been cumbersome, though, so I just put it on my own blog, Scarabus:

  • George Mokray

    Back in the day, police horses were trained for crowd control.  They would use their bodies to isolate and stop people on the street.  If I remember correctly, some Parisian rioters would embed razor blades in the tips of their canes to cut the bellies of the horses.  

    That THX 1138/Imperial stormtrooper/futuristic fascistic bullyboy look is getting more and more popular these days.  All we need is a cloud of quadrotor armed drones maneuvering in sync to make the picture complete.

  • marc sobel

    Why would you put a horse in the middle of a riot.

    Because the commies ruined many things about Mother Russia but not the use of Cossacks in influencing public opinion

  • lq

    Wow – I’ve been in marches and horses intimidate the hell out of me.  Especially when they start chasing marchers.  

    • Colonic Irrigator

       It garners a better perspective by the rider as well.
      Horses work well in crowd situations.  Duh.

  • Guest

    The horse is wearing the equivalent of a Chicago cop’s black-and-white checkered hatband, as seen here:

  • Colonic Irrigator

    ” Hmm, somehow I doubt that.”
    Demonstrators often try to remove or disable the equipment of the riot police.
    You think someone who cares for the horses would assume rioter (maybe in a panic situation) would not harm an animal if they are willing to attack a human being?

    Grow up, Pollyanna. 

  • Sally G

    I believe that horses are used for numerous reasons: (1) better view for rider, (2) intimidation factor, (3) ability to move faster than a person and go off-road.  The visor gives an eerie look, to be sure.
    I saw a line of horseback police at Times Square at an OWS event last October.  They were pushing the protestors back against a wall until the supervisor gave the word for the police to step back, as there was no violence and there was nowhere for the protestors to go.  Smart man, defused the situation.  One of the officers actually there to prevent violence, not to cause it.

  • lj123

     coast store 

  • Johnrudoff

    I have made identical images in recent demonstrations in Portland, OR.
    In all fairness, the horses themselves certainly are targets of intentionally harmful and dangerous (to them) attacks, hence the armor, visors, etc. Whether a police horse is used well (crowd control, lines of vision, coordination, defusing tensions because of the warm fuzzies of a horse) or ill (attack animal) depends entirely on the situation and on the actions/reactions of both sides. They are lovely animals though and make for great images.

  • Steve

    But (honest question), why would police put a horse in the middle of a
    riot anyway — especially if they were concerned it would endanger the

    You think it would be better to drive police cars in a riot?  Listen, I’m as liberal and caring as the next guy, but rioting does happen and sometimes I’m glad the cops choose to attend.

    You are aligning yourself with people who think all cops are pigs.  And that rioting in the name of free speech is okay.  If that is your intent, best to come right out and say it…

  • Zach D Roberts

    Horses DO NOT work well in crowd situations… especially CPD horses… they were all freaked out and nearly threw a couple of cops from their mount. 

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