Sunday, May 24, 2015

Attributes of a Tracking Horse

David wrote to ask "What attributes would you choose in a horse that you are going to be tracking off of? If I get called out on a rescue, I know I maybe out over night, so hobble training is a no brainer. What else would you suggest I think about?"

Hey David, tracking or searching can be a slow and multi-day process. so I'd look for a horse with stamina that can be ridden all day for a couple days in a row. He would have to have sound feet and be a good trail horse. You don't want a anxious horse, a horse that is easily spooked.   Tracking exercises and search and rescue training and rehearsals would be a good place to train a horse like this.

If you are tracking or searching with a team on horseback you may need to ride away and follow a different track or jump ahead and look at a sign cut area so you don't need a buddy sour horse, who is always looking for the other horses and calling to them. But a good rule is the two person (or two horse) rule where no searchers go out by themselves is at all possible.  I was an Army Range Rider, where there was only six of us to cover 1.3 million acres, so sometimes on routine patrols, and in particular searches for missing or lost people, we often had to ride alone.  You may as well, so radios and cell phones, scheduled communications checks, as well as a search command center knowing your planned route or search area will be your lifeline.

You want your horse comfortable by himself just with you. A comfortable horse will often alert on things he can hear, smell or see where you may not. This is what the FBI calls a clue and can help draw something to your attention.

The picture at right shows the head set and ears forwarding facing when a horse alerts on something. A horse will do this quite often just checking things out.  Usually, if the alert posture just lasts a second or two, the horse was just assuring himself that there was no threat. If the horse sees or hears something then that alert posture will last longer.  When I was a Range Rider, my horse's ability to alert on moving objects came in handy when riding out to locate trespass cattle as well as people.  

You are right that having a horse that can be safely hobbled, for longer periods when you are out of the saddle or camping over night, is necessary. You may also need to dismount from time to time, to read sign or look at something more closely or carefully, where putting hobbles on and off are impractical, so your horse needs to ground tie or otherwise stay put with you on the ground moving around. 

I work with my horses to stand on a loose lead while I'm moving around on the ground and when the slack is taken out of the lead they move forward and lead up. This is also good for going through gates, especially wire gates. I saw a gent open a wire gate once and his horse moved forward before the gate was open enough and he stuck his foot over the bottom strand of barb wire on that gate. It startled the horse and luckily he did not panic so a bad wreck did not ensure,...but it could have.

Being able to direct your horse while on the ground and you are staying in place, such as backing him up or moving his front end over one way or the other, can be useful if his shadow crosses the sign you are looking at and you need to move him so you can see it better.

I hope this helps a little.  About anything you can do to expose your horse and get him comfortable to new situations and environments make your horse better for your search missions.  Good luck and thanks for serving in search and rescue.

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