Auld lang syne in the saddle: Kolkata’s Mounted Police through time

If you’ve found yourself on S.N. Banerjee Road in Kolkata in the afternoon, perhaps while shopping at New Market, gobbling up fuchkas or simply passing by, you might have watched one of the oldest police forces walking (or, rather trotting) down the road.

Auld lang syne in the saddle: Kolkata’s Mounted Police through time


If you’ve found yourself on S.N. Banerjee Road in Kolkata in the afternoon, perhaps while shopping at New Market, gobbling up fuchkas or simply passing by, you might have watched one of the oldest police forces walking (or, rather trotting) down the road. Intrigued, eh?

The birth of the Kolkata Mounted Police is akin to a tale lost in the fog of time. The earliest documented traces, however, date back to 1840, when it was a modest affair with just two Sowars under a Dafadar or Head Officer. Their primary gig? Being swift messengers, alerting the harbour master whenever a ship was spotted. This tale marks the genesis of one of the world’s oldest Mounted Police wings, heralding the dawn of Kolkata Police.

Engaging in an insightful conversation with The Statesman, officer-in-charge Abhra Chatterjee narrated several tales from the days of yore, how a day in the life of the mounted police and their horses look like, and interestingly, a few amusing anecdotes.


“One has to understand that we are maintaining livestock, so it’s crucial to keep the horses healthy. The day kicks off at 5 am, kicking into gear with an hour of training, then a relaxing sand bath to ease any muscle tension, topped off with a hearty meal to replenish energy after the early rise. The daily routine of a mounted police horse is divided between exercise, training, grooming and feeding. They are provided with three to four meals per day and consume approximately 50-60 litres of water daily,” said OC Chatterjee.
Horses on active duty are allotted a 15-20 minute walking session, while those off-duty engage in exercise within the fields. Failing to exercise a horse can lead to illness due to its inability to effectively expel toxins from the body. “Other exercise sessions encompass various movements such as trotting, cantering and jumping. Additionally, the horses receive instruction on specialised skills, including navigating challenging terrain, preparing for races, manoeuvring through crowds without causing harm to anyone, and walking in adverse weather conditions. These skills come in handy while leading processions, escorting eminent personalities and during major sports events, etc. The mounted police also acts as guard of honour when the President of India comes to the Raj Bhavan,” he added. The gallant horse, Ashoke, bagged the gold medal in the quadrille event at the All India Equestrian Championship and Mounted Police Duty Meet this year. Historian and Always Welcome are two other horses renowned for their excellence in duty and escorting during parades, respectively.

“At 6 a.m., the mounted police embark on their patrol of the Maidan area, wrapping up their surveillance by 8:30 a.m. A repeat performance occurs in the afternoon, at 2:30 p.m. in winter and 3 p.m. in summer. These patrols serve the purpose of thwarting any potential miscreant activities within the Maidan vicinity,” commented Chatterjee.

Currently, the Kolkata Mounted Police boasts a total of 69 horses. Among them, nine are considered condemned, rendering them unfit for activities such as exercise sessions and patrolling, either due to age or other medical conditions. In the past, condemned horses were euthanised, but this practice has since ceased. Instead, these horses now reside alongside their fit counterparts. The overall strength of the police personnel amounts to 178 individuals, encompassing veterinary officers, inspectors, the OC, riders, civic volunteers, horse caretakers, vehicle drivers and assistants, as stated by Chatterjee.

Back in 1842, there was a special squad of horseback riders patrolling the Maidan area: one Jamadar, one Dafadar and a dozen troopers, led possibly by the illustrious ‘Keough’, the inaugural Dafadar of Kolkata Mounted Police. Their attire? Dark green chapkan, scarlet trims, white pyjamas, knee-high boots, scarlet turbans, a duo of pistols snug in holsters, and a pouch sporting ten rounds of ball ammunition.

As time trotted on, their numbers swelled. By 1850, they boasted six Sowars, six Syces, and seven noble steeds, four of which resided at the police office while the rest trotted off to various police stations. They also upgraded from the humble Tiretta Bazar to the chic 138, S.N. Banerjee Road.
Come 1857, these equestrian enforcers were the go-to men for maintaining law and order, handling traffic, and shepherding pedestrians during special occasions. They’d earned their stripes, ranking alongside London and Montreal as one of the globe’s top Mounted Police forces, all under the watchful eye of a Superintendent of Police.

Throughout the 19th century, the Calcutta Mounted Police donned many hats, from night patrols to crowd control, from regulating traffic to leading ceremonial processions. They even shared a close bond with the Calcutta Police Band, which had become quite the musical marvel in the empire.

In 1912, former commissioners of police, Kolkata, Sir Charles Tegart and Sir Fredrick Halliday, and John Eastwood crafted a sleek duty roster. The post of an Indian Raisaldar or sub-inspector was created after 1916, probably by Tegart.
Pre-independence, these mounted marvels were the cavalry against riots, the peacekeepers of playgrounds, the guardians of Maidan’s tranquillity, marking them as India’s foremost Mounted Police force, with a strict “Europeans only” policy – until humility nudged the gates open for Indian recruits. E. S. Tate Lavery took charge as the first Indian Inspector of Mounted police from 1959 to 1965.

Until 1965, the Kolkata Mounted Police sourced its horses from Australia and England. Nowadays, their equine roster includes half breeds, thoroughbreds, Marwari, Kathiawari and Nukra. Nadia, Artiness, Ramakrishnan, Dimple and Kublai are a few of these horses, respectively.
A significant number of the horses under the ownership of the mounted police have been generously donated by the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, Kolkata. As per the racecourse regulations, horses are ineligible to participate once they reach eight years of age. In the interest of providing these retired horses with a comfortable home or shelter, some are gifted to the Mounted Police force by their owners. Young and healthy horses that, despite their vigour, lack the swiftness required to secure top positions are also bestowed upon the mounted police force as gifts. Currently, the youngest horse in the force is aged five years. Horses are also bought from the army or private stud farms within India. Additionally, the Kolkata Mounted Police regularly breeds three to four horses at its body guard lines stable for its own use.

Speaking further, OC Abhra Chatterjee said, “A characteristic of racehorses is their inclination to run in a straight line, a behaviour instilled through training. The initial priority in retaining these horses and integrating them into our activities is to instil balance. This involves teaching them lateral movements, cultivating a sense of calmness, and breaking down their steps into smaller increments. The training process typically spans 6-12 months, although certain horses may require up to 2.5 years to fully adapt.”

Recounting a few amusing anecdotes, Chatterjee chuckled, “There was this horse named Sablow, a real cunning one. He had a habit of unseating his rider and giving chase. In fact, if the rider sought refuge in a tree, Sablow would patiently wait below, eager for another round of pursuit.”

“There was also Ziko,” recalled Chatterjee. “During lengthy shifts, the riders grab food from nearby vendors. Ziko had a habit of nudging his rider for a bite. If denied, he’d persistently pester until he got his share. It’s hilarious how he’d happily munch on buttered toast, vegetable chops, and even sip tea from his rider.”

“Horses possess keen auditory senses. Allow me to share a personal anecdote: I was atop Harry, my trusted steed, who seemed unusually attentive, his ears perked as if homing in on a sound. Although I heard nothing at first, I followed his lead, and together we discovered a group of miscreants attempting to vandalise stolen cable wire. Thanks to Harry’s acute hearing, we were able to apprehend them in the act,” said a proud Abhra Chatterjee.