A private eye for horses? Yep, that’s a real profession–and often utilized by owners of valuable showhorses and racehorses. Thoroughbred yearlings at the annual Keeneland auction can go for anything from a few thousand to $11 million. In 2010, Moorlands Totilas sold for USD $13.36 million. You had better believe that owners of top-dollar horses like these are taking steps to ensure their safety.

Pinkerton, an almost 200-year-old risk management and security company (read: private eye) provides these kind of services. They also headed the Union Intelligence Service during the Civil War, which was the forerunner of the U.S. Secret Service, developed the first-ever database of criminal mugshots, and became legendary during their relentless pursuit of lawbreakers such as Jesse James – the Younger Gang, the Dalton Brothers and Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. So they’ve got quite the resume of professional badassery.

I chatted with Jeremy Bates, who oversees operations at a Pinkerton office in the heart of Kentucky’s horse country.

What discipline of riders most typically hire protection services?

In this area, we get a little bit of everything. Of course Kentucky is known for Thoroughbred breeding and training farms, but being near to Shelbyville, there are also a lot of Saddlebreds.

How do you go about making sure a horse is secure in its stable?

The first thing we do is pretty similar to what we would do for any business—perform a risk assessment. We look at physical security and see what safeguards they have. If they do have security in place, we do penetration testing to see what kind of access we can get to the property in an attempt to identify any weaknesses. From there we are able to develop a client risk profile and recommend a holistic risk management solution.

What kinds of things are owners trying to protect their horses against?

Theft is not exactly a top concern, but more so harming, tampering, or introducing some kind of illegal substance where the horse would be disqualified from competition.

What about security away from the barn—at competitions or at the track?

Security is pretty thin at racetracks–maybe one person for 20-30 horses. How much can that one person know about who is allowed to have access to the horse and who isn’t?

Some owners don’t want to pay for 24/7 protection. It really just depends on their level of concern–but there really is no better insurance than to have a private security detail controlling access to the horse. Similar to executive protection services that we offer corporations.

When it comes to traveling with your horse and keeping them in a new place, you should always inquire about access control and physical security capabilities. Do the showgrounds or the track use off duty police or a contract company? What’s the vetting process for their personnel, and where are they located?

Are there steps that ordinary people can take to help keep their horses safe and secure?

First, take an objective look at their security measures. Have the grounds workers undergone background checks or behavioral profiling? Was it a one-time check at the time of initial hire or revisited annually? You shouldn’t allow just anyone to come in and out of the farm. There should be an access control process for all visitors, even the veterinarian.

Another thing to consider is crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED)—how the property is designed. Are there trees between the house and the barn blocking your view of the entrance, or is there an entry to the barn where you might not be able to detect someone coming in? The safety of horses kept out “on the back 40” should also be considered. If the horses are not skittish, they may go right up to the fence to check out anyone who comes by on a trail or through the woods without the owner knowing about it.

 It can be very difficult for people to really think objectively about all of these things because they become comfortable in their environment, and are not really thinking from a security standpoint. And often these farms are huge, so it’s tough to do it on your own without the help of professional risk advisors.

And finally…can you share any interesting anecdotes from your experience protecting horses or would you have to kill me?

Our first priority is protecting our clients, their assets and their privacy. So, in order to protect our clients I will not be able to provide any specifics. As a Pinkerton employee, I can tell you that in over 164 years we have seen it all, heard it all and done it all and when I hear about a multi-million dollar prized race horse going missing or being tampered with, I do sometimes get the feeling that the more things change the more they stay the same. But rest assured that Pinkerton will be there and has the experience to help mitigate these risks.

Great food for thought–thanks to Jeremy Bates for all of the information! I know I’ll be thinking about security if I ever design my own barn now!

If you would like to learn more about security and horses, check out Bates’ post about racehorses on the Pinkerton blog.