ELITE horses from Lothian and Borders Police are to be transferred to the west of Scotland permanently ahead of the creation of the single national force next year.
Four horses and their riders will remain in Ayrshire after a successful three-month trial policing major events, including Hearts vs Liverpool and Hibs vs Celtic.
The pilot scheme also saw the highly trained animals moved from Fettes HQ and paired with their counterparts in Strathclyde Police, to be deployed at events including the recent Scottish Defence League rallies.
Police chiefs today said the now 22-strong unit allows them an unrivalled ability to control huge crowds and cater for major sporting events.
Patrols on the streets of Edinburgh by Viscount, aged 13, Fife, aged 11, Rocky, aged 9 and youngster Fusilier, aged 6, are likely to be rarer now they are based in the village of Stewarton, although the force insisted they would be on hand whenever needed.
The Evening News also understands that the Police Service of Scotland is considering creating a national horse unit hub in Lanarkshire or West Lothian to reduce travel times around the Central Belt.
Chief Constable David Strang wrote in a report to the police board: “With the access to Strathclyde officers and horses, the pilot has demonstrated ability for larger individual deployments than previously possible.
“This has been more effective at events, with a greater resource being able to be called upon than would be routinely available given current animal and staffing constraints.”
Between 2008 and 2012 the force averaged between a high of seven and a low of four horses in the mounted section. This dropped to four in July 2012 when Sally, 9, died following an operation, which “seriously impacted on the operational capability of the unit.”
He added: “It should be noted that due to the number of horses falling below the establishment, a considerable expense has been spared in recruiting new animals, training of staff and purchase of livery.”
Until the trial merger, only four horses could be deployed at most events in the Lothians, but this rose to as many as nine at major games such as Hibs vs Celtic, which allowed police to speed up crowd control and improve safety.
However, the total deployment hours in the Lothians dropped from 130 in August, to 59 in September and 35 in October.
As with the other eight forces, Lothian and Borders Police are facing significant financial constraints ahead of merging next year and are attempting to avoid a duplication in roles.
All eight forces combined will have to cut at least 500 civilian police staff before the end of March. Overall, 3,200 support staff are expected to go in the next few years.
Iain Whyte, convenor of the Lothian and Borders Police board and a member of the new Scottish Police Authority, said: “Obviously the board were concerned this change would reduce the visibility of our police horses, in Edinburgh City Centre and Inverleith Park, for example.
“However, one of the issues was that it wasn’t up to strength and we have been reassured that the unit is able to do more for big operations and that they will be on hand for patrols when required.”