Mounted officers reign over tough terrain"Crack! Crack!"

At the sound of the trainer's whip, ears and heads perk up.

"Good boy! Back, back," says Kimberly Nelson, riding her horse, TJ.

Nelson has been involved with the Clatsop County Sheriff's Posse for two years. She is this year's captain.

The volunteer group, whose members will be on duty over the Fourth of July weekend, provides security and assistance to events and law enforcement efforts totaling more than 700 hours in a year.

Assignments have included the Clatsop County Fair, the Astoria-Warrenton Crab and Seafood Festival, visiting circuses, the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival, the Monster Truck Show, the annual Hospice Auction, Seaside Spring Break, the Hood to Coast Relay and the U.S. Coast Guard's air show. Members also ride in the Astoria Regatta Grand Land Parade.

So many appearances are costly in time and equipment.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Kimberly Nelson, a Svensen resident and this year's captain of the posse, does some groundwork with her horse, TJ, during a recent training session."Buying the horse is the cheap part," said Kimberly Nelson, whose husband, Michael, is a full-time resident deputy for the Sheriff's Department and serves as the liaison between the posse and the sheriff's office.

All members of the posse own their own horses and trailers, pay for their own equipment, feed, horseshoes, vet bills, and fuel to and from assignments. A saddle can cost $1,500.

Most assignments are unpaid. Any small reimbursements members receive is spent on training and other posse expenses.

Special trainingOn Thursday, the group met at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds for training to desensitize their horses to sounds and sights that easily could startle them. These include flashing lights, loud booms and other sounds, helicopters, kites, bikes and guns.

Trainer Scot Hansen of HorseThink, a retired Seattle mounted policeman, has developed training techniques that teach horses how to be brave when startled. He showed members his system, which includes exercises, equipment and lots of praise and petting.

The new training cost posse members $250 per person; nine of the 21 members were able to attend.

The training is just in time.

Cannon Beach will be patrolled by the posse on the Fourth of July because fireworks are illegal on its beach. City leaders have decided on the ban because firework debris finds its way into the ocean and then into tidepools, harming wildlife.

"It's the first year (Cannon Beach Police) are going to stop illegal fireworks," said Sam Patrick, a member of the posse since 1995. The Knappa resident, who is a county commissioner, served with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office for 20 years.

Both he and Kimberly Nelson say one of the most important roles of posse members is to "talk to folks." Much of members' work is public relations, which includes posing for photos with children.

"Those horses have been in so many pictures," Nelson said. "We always have a good time."

Amid the fun, there is serious work. At Sandcastle Day in Cannon Beach June 5, posse members found four lost children. "It is much easier to spot people when you are on the back of a horse," Nelson said.

Besides talking to the public and helping with parking cars at events, posse members participate in search-and-rescue efforts and guard crime scenes.

"We are part of the Sheriff's Department," said Nelson. "We love what we do. The sheriff depends on us; we make his job a whole lot easier."

Every year, members patrol a section of the Hood to Coast relay called "Mainline," a logging road that stretches several miles. Coyotes, bears and cougars have been spotted there.

"We are there to help if a runner falls ill, or if they fall down, and we make sure the vans stay where they are supposed to be," said Nelson, who works in juvenile corrections.

"The runners are nice," she said. "Plus, it gives us an excuse to ride our horses! We get to volunteer our time to do something we love."

Other skillsAll members are reserve or special deputies. As well as riding, they keep up their law enforcement skills and are especially proud of their shooting. Recently, eight posse members, along with Sheriff John Raichl, traveled to Roseburg for the annual Posse Shoot. Jerry Ostermiller and Mike Clark qualified as Masters, giving the posse a total of five with the Masters ranking. Patrick placed fourth, Ostermiller fifth and Clark ninth.

At the contest, 25 teams of four from Oregon competed and Clatsop County placed second. "We won in 2001 and have gotten second ever since," said Patrick.

Members are geographically and professionally diverse. They include a bookkeeper, firefighter, emergency medical technician, millworker, hospital worker, horse trainer, bar pilot, school cook, insurance salesman and museum director.

They are appointed by the sheriff after a background check. All must be at least 21 and own or have access to their own horse and trailer.

"The best part about it is being able to do something you enjoy while you are volunteering," Nelson said. "It's great to help other people and for them to say 'thanks.'"

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