OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The city's mounted police unit soon may ride into the sunset as police more frequently turn to all-terrain vehicles.

The horses nearly lost out last year during city budget discussions, but city council members decided not to cut the program.

Police Chief Bill Citty says an officer on horseback may never go away, but it is getting more difficult to justify the time and manpower needed to care for the horses and train officers to ride them.

Also, horses can't keep up with the demand for an increased police presence along the Oklahoma River, but ATVs can.

``It's hard to overwork the ATV's,'' says Citty. ``You only have so much manpower, and that whole area is growing. You want to create a safe environment for the public to know they can come down and enjoy those areas. You get to a point where you can't really pull officers off the street.''

The ATVs cover a larger area in less time than the horses can and they have the advantages of speed and stamina. ATVs also can carry large amounts of equipment.

On the other hand, horses have the advantage of visibility. People can see them from hundreds of yards away and know immediately that police are nearby.

People also seem more willing to approach an officer on horseback, says Staff Sgt. Steve Cooper.

``There is nothing like the connection you get with the people out here, the smile on kids' faces,'' says Cooper. ``It's like a magnet.''

Officers sitting high on horseback can see crowds, and crowds can look up and see the officers during such events as the state fair, July 4 activities in Bricktown and other special events.

``Visibility is huge,'' said Citty. ``They are efficient and effective at the fair. The problem is that they can't cover a large area.''

ATVs and bicycles are a more practical solution along the river, he said. The horses will become even less practical over time as continued development and activity along the river put greater demand on the police department.

``We will have fewer horses in the future,'' said Citty. ``Oklahoma, with its Western heritage, it would be nice if we could keep some horses. You try to balance what your needs are with the type of productivity that the horses provide.''