January 2018 Issue - page 8

Page 8
January 2018
Pennsylvania Native Protects U.S. Border—on Horseback
By Alicia Stephens-Martin
At age fifty-five, I’ve finally
developed the confidence to reach
for my dreams. So when I meet a
young woman who already stands
out in her career, with self-assur-
ance combined with a love for
horses, I am instantly curious.
I had the privilege to inter-
view Katie Griffith Clare, who
lost her mother while too young,
with whom she shared a love of
horses, and knew she wanted to
make a difference. Today Katie
connects all three, patrolling
the U.S. border. Katie and her
steadfast steed are the living
wall—the one President Trump
would find almost impossible to
build of brick and mortar because
of terrain.
In some border areas a wall
would be impractical, but horses
can easily journey. According to
Katie, horses even help by detect-
ing sounds and smells, keen only
to the animal.
We met at a September horse
show in Lancaster County, far
from where Katie, a native of
southern Pennsylvania, works
on the southwest border in San
Diego, California. She graduated
from Eastern High School and
attended Alvernia College in
Reading, PA. Nothing about her
demeanor revealed her ability to
handle a gun, withstand days on
the range, or capture illegals. She
simply smiled from her borrowed
mount, happy to see all her
missed friends.
Katie serves as a United
States Border Patrol Agent—a
federal position. In her words, her
job is to detect and prevent illegal
aliens, terrorists, and terrorist
weapons from entering the U.S.,
and prevent illegal trafficking
of people and contraband. She
and her fellow agents are the
uniformed law enforcement arm
of U.S. Customs and Border Pro-
tection, a component of the U.S.
Department of Homeland Secu-
rity. With over 21,000 agents, the
U.S. Border Patrol is one of the
largest law enforcement agencies
in the U.S. Not until after this
interview when I researched the
Border Patrol did I realize the
daunting task horse and rider face
every day.
Are there many women on
horseback border patrol?
Currently on the San Diego
Sector Horse Patrol Unit, there
are four female riders, includ-
ing myself. Texas, Arizona,
and Washington state also have
horse patrol units. There are
probably a few female riders,
but not many.
What led you to this career
and location?
Solving crimes and putting
the "bad guys" away has always
interested me. I knew a degree
in criminal justice would offer
a wide variety of options, and I
had my heart set on becoming a
federal agent. I applied to several
different agencies. The Border
Patrol offered me a position along
the southwest border, contingent
on passing a physical and health
test and background examina-
tion. After I accepted San Diego,
it was off to the Federal Law
Enforcement Training Center
for five months in Artesia, New
At the academy each trainee
must learn and excel in immigra-
tion law, operational law, Span-
ish, physical fitness, firearms, and
evasive driving.
Horses were the first mode
of conveyance for the Border
Patrol back in 1924 when the
agency started. Horses climb
mountains and rocky terrain
where agents on foot, trucks, or
on ATVs cannot. They are also
quiet and stealthy at night, which
is helpful when sneaking up on
illegal aliens trying to evade
capture. Horses’ eyesight and
hearing are much keener than
humans’. The horses will often-
times alert their riders to people
hiding before we even know
they are there.
We are each assigned a
partner we ride every day. That
assignment is based on our riding
ability. Our herd consists of 23
mustangs, 9 quarter horses, and
one thoroughbred.
Did you always love hors-
es? Criminal Justice? How did
these two passions come togeth-
er? Was this your original goal?
My mom was a true
horsewoman and had me riding
independently at age four.
Horses are an absolute passion.
She bought me a little founda-
tion quarter horse when I was
nine. The versatility of that
mare took me through western
pleasure, reining, jumping, and,
most successfully, rodeo events.
When I went to college, I had to
stop, so I wanted to make sure
horses were a part of my life
after graduation.
I didn't always want a career
in criminal justice. In elementary
school I wanted to be a come-
dian. When I was a pre-teen
I wanted to be a large animal
vet. Finally, I wanted a career
in law enforcement. I kept my
nose clean throughout school
and college by involving myself
in as many activities as I could
handle. I also had to get the
absolute best grades. I consider
myself very lucky to ride every
day, protect this country, and get
paid to do so.
What does a normal day on
your job look like?
A normal day consists of
the agents gathering in the office
and determining who will ride
that day. Every time we take the
horses out, one of us must follow
in a marked Border Patrol vehi-
cle in case an incident happens.
We need that support vehicle.
This agent is also free to work
and respond to activity in their
The rest of us will prepare
our horses. We ride in Circle Y
trail saddles. Our horses wear
splint and bell boots for protec-
tion from rocks and cactuses
“in the field," which is what all
agents call the area they work.
After our horses are tacked up,
we'll get our uniforms, put our
gun belts on, and load the horses
up. Depending on how many
units we have that day, we will
take either one or two of our five-
horse slant load trailers.
The horse patrol unit is
mobile. We can take the horses
all over the border in San Diego
County. San Diego County is
very diverse and has a multitude
of climates. My sector is split up
into eight adjacent stations from
the beach to nearly Arizona, with
two stations located in northern
San Diego. The horse patrol
travels wherever stations request
them to work—sometimes the
beach and the next month the
mountains, depending on "alien
traffic." It is not unusual to travel
over an hour to get to an assigned
area. Other times it will only take
ten minutes.
After site arrival, we ride
onto trails and dirt roads to look
for footprints (which we call
“foot sign” or "sign" for short).
The areas we patrol are not
typically accessible to the public,
therefore a “sign” is usually
a sure indication of illegals.
Sometimes the aliens will use
long branches with leaves on
them (like a broom) to cover their
footprints to avoid detection.
Our shift totals around ten
hours. Some agents in the field
have night vision devices that
can see human heat signature.
Agents on ATVs and in vehicles
will also work with the horse
patrol in the apprehension of
illegal aliens.
The rule of horse patrol is
that we always ride in pairs for
safety. For example, if there are
only three agents working on a
particular day, one agent must
drive the support vehicle while
the other two ride.
Do you have a relationship
with each horse or just one?
When I first became a horse
patrol agent in 2009, my first
partner was a quarter horse
gelding named Calvin. I rode
and took care of Calvin ev-
ery day and often took him in
parades with the Border Patrol.
We were together every day for
years. Calvin is now 19, but still
rideable, and I will adopt him
this year.
My second assigned horse,
who is my current partner, is a
thoroughbred gelding named
Montana. Montana is a hand-
some dark bay with a faint star
on his forehead. He was trained
to race but never made it to the
track. He's a feisty thorough-
bred who nobody on the unit
wanted to ride. I love a chal-
lenge and I learned to ride on
my mom's off-track thorough-
bred, so this horse seemed right
up my alley. Over the years
we've created an unbreakable
bond. He truly makes me happy
when skies are grey. Although
he's spirited, he's always in my
pocket, letting me hang all over
him, and protecting me from
danger when we head out to do
our job. He's my heart horse,
my friend, my shoulder to cry
on, and my work partner.
Katie inspired me to do
more research. On a typical day
the U.S. Customs and Border
Protection (CBP) screens over
a million international visitors,
processes 74,000 truck, rail, and
sea containers, seizes nearly 5
tons of illicit drugs, and appre-
hends more than 1000 individuals
for possible criminal activity. The
CBP is responsible for patrolling
6,000 miles of Mexican and
Canadian borders and 2,000
miles of coastline according to
their website. Agents like Katie
and her four-legged partner work
diligently, without recognition in
all types of conditions.
To further appreciate what
this team does for us every day,
You will even
find buried deep in the career
choices page a brown-haired girl.
In Katie’s smile you can almost
see her love of horse, career, and
- Fax: --
Phone --
Pennsylvania native Katie Griffith Clare is a border control agent
in San Diego, CA, one of the few women to hold the job. Her work
involves patrolling America’s southwest border on horseback.
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