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The Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has a secret weapon to help solve mysteries and fight crime -- horses. The Mounted Unit, also known as the Mounted Posse, is a group of 13 civilian volunteers who have trained their personal horses to aid the sheriff’s department in search and rescue missions.

Atop the backs of these gentle giants, the Mounted Posse volunteers cover more ground and see from a better vantage point than a person searching on foot. One of their most recent missions took place last September when the unit deployed to help try to locate Kristie Ragland, a 52-year-old Brent woman last seen in the Tuscaloosa area.

“A lot of times when we’ve done all we can, searching in the air and on ATVs, we call the posse in as our next step," Deputy Jessica McDaniel explained. "When we come to a dead-end in an investigation, this is just one additional thing we wouldn’t have without the volunteers."

(Jenna Murray)

Terry Vaughn, a retired deputy who's been working with horses since 1991, said he partnered up with Ken Thrasher to bring this specialty unit back to Tuscaloosa in 2015.

Sheriff Ron Abernathy called the resource “invaluable” to his department's operations.

“They’re a great force multiplier,” Abernathy said. “It allows us to get more deputies on the streets.”

In addition to helping solve missing persons cases, horses like the posse's own Buttermilk and Dixie are used to help police the excitement surrounding University of Alabama football game days and can also be found at most elementary and middle school career fairs.

The crime-fighting unit also has a prestigious past, having overseen Mardi Gras parades in Mobile and an inaugural parade for former president Bill Clinton.

Buttermilk, Dixie and their law-keeping friends are Tennessee Walkers, which their handlers said are a perfect breed for staying calm in potentially alarming situations.

Buttermilk is currently out of commission, though -- the mare is pregnant and is expecting to give birth later this year to Biscuits and Fried Chicken, if her owners stick to their facetious first shot at names for the ponies.

These good Samaritans said they keep coming back year after year for the effect they have on the West Alabama community they love.

“When we were able to go visit with the kids and see their faces and reactions, that meant a lot. To go out and help the sheriff’s department, that means a lot," volunteer Kathy Vaughn said. "It’s just the fulfillment we get from helping other people.”

While training up to 30 hours in a month may be a daunting task for a volunteer, the horses and people of the Mounted Unit happily spend their time and money helping keep Tuscaloosa County a safe place to live.

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