SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — Whiskey had a busy morning roaming the rugged hills that surround one of the busiest migrant crossings on the southern border.
The 8-year-old quarter horse and his Border Patrol rider helped round up some 30 migrants who had tried to hide in the scrub in the border badlands before dawn on Wednesday.
Whiskey is one of 334 horses patrolling the border with Mexico, able to reach remote areas where there are no roads and no access for even four-wheel-drive or all-terrain vehicles.
“Working this whole area and climbing up Cristo Rey on horseback is so much easier,” said Whiskey’s Border Patrol rider, who did not want to be identified. He said that he had been working with Whiskey for the last six months.
“He has good and bad days, but he can sense things, and sometimes he wants to test me,” he said. “He knows when I am nervous, and he can see things before I do.”
Although horses were first deployed at the founding of the Border Patrol in 1924, they returned to the force in greater numbers in 1986 when agents realized that they could access the most difficult-to-reach crevices and canyons on horseback.
The animals used in the Horse Patrol are adopted under a program co-sponsored by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which captures wild mustangs and sends them to prisons in the southwest to be trained by inmates. Other horses are adopted after they have been seized by agents in drug busts. Mexican drug traffickers have used horses to transport drugs over rocky terrain into the U.S., Border Patrol agents told The Post.
After their inmate training, horses are paired with a Border Patrol agent and they undergo a period of bonding before going to work.
“Training for the Horse Patrol is among the toughest training in the Border Patrol,” said Valeria Morales, who used to be a member of the Horse Patrol in the region. “They put you through a rigorous course in order to prepare you to work the tough terrain and remote environment that is the southwest border.”
Although the work was “physically strenuous” and she suffered her share of “bumps and bruises,” Morales told The Post it was one of the most satisfying parts of her 18-year career with the Border Patrol. “Working together with your equine partner to secure our nation’s border is an experience like no other,” she said.
The Bureau of Land Management captures some 10,000 horses and burros a year to prevent them from overgrazing and depleting sources of water in the West.
At the Border Patrol’s El Paso Sector, which covers some 125,000 square miles of terrain, much of it scrubland and mountains, they are valuable assets.
“The horse provides a tactical advantage, helping us to defend the border,” said Border Patrol agent Joel Freeland.