Welcome to the “Neigh”borhood – Equestrian Notes

By Melissa Madsen

You may have seen one of the team’s larger four-footed team members at a training or on a search this year. The Equestrian Resource wants to introduce itself to the team at large.

Here are a few fun facts about horses that relate to SAR:

  • Did you know a horse can pull a heavy object? Horses have been used as draft animals for centuries. Think of the stokes litter on your hike out of UNO, or how about those heavy medical bags with oxygen tanks?
  • Horses can travel 20-30 miles per day at a moderate rate of speed.
  • A horse is quiet while traveling and thus a mounted searcher may hear a weakened cry from a lost person.
  • Horses may travel on fire roads, single tracks or go four-hoofing (off trail) to cover search areas.
  • As a prey animal, horses have a very good sense of smell and hearing. They are keenly aware of their surroundings for small movements. The SAR saying is “Look where the horse looks.”

Here are a few safety tips for all team members:

  • Be calm and quiet. Sudden moves can cause a horse to shy (jump sideways).
  • Approach a horse from a 45-degree angle to shoulder. This is the best way for you to be in a horse’s line of sight. Do not approach directly in front or behind a horse. (Remember, horses can sleep standing, and although they can see almost 360 degrees, they have a blind spot to the direct front and rear.)
  • The safest way to lead a horse is with a halter and lead rope. Don't hook your fingers through the halter straps, rings or the bit. If the horse pulls away, your fingers could be caught, injuring them or catching your hand so that you are dragged. Never loop lead ropes, lunge lines, or reins around your hands or any other body part.
  • Never stand directly behind a horse.
  • If you must pick up a horse’s foot or something off the ground near a horse, DO NOT squat or kneel around a horse. Bend over so that if the horse moves, you can get out of the way quickly.
  • Remember, most horses weigh 1,000 to 1,200  pounds.
  • We encourage all members to come and pet the horses and get  to know them, but only if the owner is there. Our horses must be people- and animal-friendly, but the horse may like things done in a certain way.
  • Do not feed a horse anything without consulting the owner first.  Keep hands clear of the horse's mouth. Horses can very quickly become greedy and mistake fingers for carrots or other treats.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots that will protect your feet if a horse steps on them. No sandals or thin shoes! (Remember the 1,200 pounds.)
  • When tying, use a quick-release knot or panic snap so that if the horse gets scared and pulls, he can quickly be freed. The feeling of being constrained can make a scared horse panic to the point of hurting himself or you.
  • The safest place to stand is beside the horse's shoulder where you can see each other. When moving around a horse, you should be able to touch it with your elbow, or stay at least 10 or more feet away.
  • Never attempt to help a horse that is panicked. If a horse is in trouble and thrashing about, wait until he calms down and stands still (if able to stand) before you try to help him. Again, even the most gentle horse can cause deadly injuries because of his sheer weight and power, so wait until it is safe to untie or untangle a horse that is in trouble. Remember, your safety is paramount.

If you are interested in or have experience with horses, contact Equestrian Resource Sergeant Gerald Fay for more information about the resource.