LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Justin Hardy is the trainer for LMPD's mounted patrol and he takes his job to serve and protect from horseback very seriously.
"We can go places that cars can't," said Officer Hardy. "They say one mounted officer is equal to 10 officers on the ground."
Before they can take to the streets, the real work happens in the police barn. That's how he spends his days, training one of eight police ponies.
"This horse right here and all the horses here have extensive training that can make them safe out in the public," he said.
But when he's not wrangling a 1,500 pound beast, he's training red-tail hawks he's captured in the wild. "It's definitely a way of life," he said.
WDRB followed along as Hardy headed into the woods outside Corydon, Indiana. He watches as one of his two birds perches the tree tops. "You can see their body and they way they shift on the limb. If they lean forward and their head is kind of angled, they're getting ready to launch," he said.
The bird zeroes in on his prey, dives and eventually returns to perch on Officer Hardy's arm. "It's kind of like America: the freedom when you go out with them. They're flying free. There's nothing keeping them with you and to be able to take part," Hardy said.
While the hunt is a big part of falconry, conservation is the main goal. Hardy says 70 percent of raptors won't make it through their first winter.
"That's the hardest part for a young bird to learn that first winter, what to do if it gets cold, or what to do if I'm not catching anything. So you learn it through its first winter and then when you do release it or keep it," said Hardy.
Once Hardy does release his birds back into the wild, they'll have a better chance of survival. Not much links horses and hawks, but Officer Hardy says he's drawn to the partnership between trainer and animal, and the patience it takes to develop that relationship.
"Both animals have more patience than we can even imagine. So when you're training the animal, if you can relate to their patience, you will almost get in their mind and that allows you to work with them together as a team," he said.
Unlike the horses, soon he'll release his older bird, Aria, back into the wild knowing he did his job, and now it's her turn to do hers.
"It's like you released your hunting buddy to go back and do what they love," Hardy said.
The sport is governed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and requires a federal licence.
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