After 27 years of saddling up to help keep the peace, the San Diego Police Department's Mounted Enforcement Unit rode off into the sunset.
It was a poignant scene Thursday at the mounted patrol's compound in Gold Gulch as the seven remaining horses and riders bonded for the last time.
City budget cuts have put the horse patrol out to pasture. San Diego city leaders expect to save about $250,000 a year by disbanding the unit.
San Diego's equestrian patrol went into service in early 1983 becoming a valuable, versatile police asset as well as a civic promotional tool.
"One person on a horse can essentially do what 10 officers in foot can do. So if you have a line of 10 on horses, you have 100 officers on the ground doing crowd control,"said the SDPD's Barry Johnson who spent the morning Thursday saying goodbye to Bandit.
Balboa Park was the horse patrol's base of operations but the unit often worked the beach areas, for crowd control on holiday weekends. Places like McGonigle Canyon, Penasquitos Canyon and other hard-to-police terrain.
"The horses can cover a lot more territory, a lot more ground, go through really thick brush and bushes," said Bret Righthouse with the San Diego police department. "Plus, they were used to the mobile field unit, so they got really good at crowd control."
The department may have to work harder to keep crime from creepintg into the void.
"We're going to be challenged to make sure we have squad cars and bike patrols and other patrols in the community so that presence is still made. But agin, it's incorrect to say that these cuts don't have impacts," said Todd Gloria, San Diego city councilmember.
The emotional impact figures to linger, as the patrol's last officers undertake new assignments.
"We miss our friends, our co-workers, the people that are always out here. And obviously, our horses. We ride all the different horses, but we have our favorite ones," said Hector Emerson with the San Diego police department.
"As everybody says, we kind of bond with our animals. And that's where it becomes a little bit difficult."
Some of the officers are interested in buying their horses instead of watching the city sell the animals and equipment by way of an on-line auction. They're waiting for word as to whether they'll be allowed to do that.
"I don't know if it will ever come back or not. I hope it does one day," said SDPD officer Carla Quinn. "But at this point, it's just a sad day."