ESSEX Police's mounted horse unit will be scrapped to save cash – just four years after it was reinstated following a nine-year absence.
The force says it can save £600,000 by dismissing the mounted unit's eight horses, nine police officers and two staff, as it tries to find savings of more than £42 million by April 2015 to deal with government budget cuts.
The mounted section patrols a variety of events, from V Festival to Colchester United FC's home games, but one of its last jobs will be keeping spectators safe at the Olympic mountain bike event in Hadleigh and the Olympic football tournament at London 2012.
Mick Thwaites, a retired chief superintendent who is running as independent candidate for the Essex Police Commissioner's job in November, told the Chronicle: "It appears that the Essex Police mounted section is quickly becoming a political football.
"It was only a few years ago that the mounted unit was brought back. About £250,000 was spent on bringing the stables up to scratch at Writtle and all the other expense for training officers, sourcing horses, will now be completely wasted.
"If anyone believes they are just a pony club for trotting around pleasant parts of Essex, nothing could be further from the truth. The officers on the mounted section are modern hard-working dedicated cops who, like most of the officers and staff of Essex Police, want to do a good job."
Mr Thwaites believes an officer on horseback provides more reassurance to the public than a patrolling police car.
"They police places like Lakeside in Thurrock looking to detect and reduce car crime, V Festival and football matches, and they provide high-profile policing in rural communities and much, much more," he added.
"Perhaps they don't detect as much crime or nick as many villains as beat officers, but should we judge police work on this narrow band of government-driven meaningless stats? We should judge it on what makes the public feel safe."
The force's horse section was only reintroduced in 2008 after it had previously been scrapped in 1999.
Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle said: "We're committed to providing the best and most effective policing service possible to our communities.
"In these times of unprecedented financial pressures, the force is faced with very hard choices, and the proposal to disband the mounted section is made with great reluctance.
"It should also be stressed that the welfare of the horses will be paramount and, if the unit is disbanded, the horses will be transferred to another force or re-homed."
If the mounted unit based in Writtle were to remain, Essex Police would be forced to cut up to 14 frontline police officer posts to make the equivalent savings, Mr Barker-McCardle claimed.
Val Morris-Cook, Labour's police and crime commissioner candidate for Essex, added: "The Government promised that the cuts wouldn't hit frontline services, yet this announcement makes clear that it is about saving money.
"Essex Police are being forced to make difficult decisions as a direct result of Tory-led Government cuts to police budgets which will mean 325 fewer Officers in Essex, police stations open less and no 24 hour Police Stations anywhere in the county."
The final decision to disband the unit will be made by the Police Authority.