Del Rio confrontation brings near century-old horseback Border Patrol unit to the spotlight

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Images depicting Border Patrol agents on horseback in Del Rio facing off against Haitian migrants drew national attention during a week of heightened tension on the U.S. Mexico border.

While agents on horseback are a more common sight along the border, communities across the country were surprised to see Border Patrol use the animals while on duty.

David Ham, director of the El Paso Border Patrol Museum and a retired agent, says horses have been used since the agency was formed.

“We’ve had the horse patrol since the beginning, like I said you had to provide your own horse, and even before the Border Patrol was founded in 1924, the mounted guards or mounted inspectors were all on horseback,” Ham said.

Starting in the El Paso Sector, Ham said the Border Patrol required individuals to provide their own horses, their own guns, and agents needed to feed their horses. Also, they were required to provide saddles and other equipment.

“What you had to do to graduate was ride the horse down what we call monument 3, which is a big hill and you had to ride the horse down that hill and not fall off,” said Ham.

Ham explaining that for some time during the ’60s and ’70s Border Patrol stopped using horses and switched to vehicles, but brought back horse patrols due to their ability to go places vehicles cannot.

“Santa Teresa, Deming, Lordsburg, Clint, all have horse patrol and they’re easy to get into places that you can’t take a four-wheel-drive vehicle or if you did it would damage the terrain,” said Ham.

Ham tells KTSM 9 News he’s always surprised when he hears people say they didn’t know Border Patrol used horses.

Lok Pyakurel is one of those people. Pyakurel stopped by the Border Patrol Museum on Wednesday while passing through El Paso.

“What I’ve heard about the border is about like some kind of illegal people entering through here but I’ve never been to the borderline,” said Pyakurel.

Pyakurel is not originally from America saying he is just now learning about the Horse Patrol.

“I’ve never seen it back in my country I’ve been here in the U.S. like 7 years and we never use those things back there so I was like, wow,” said Lok Pyakurel.

The DHS said Thursday that the Border Patrol has temporarily stopped using horses, following outcry over images and video of agents on horseback appearing to use aggressive tactics against migrants.

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