Search and rescue horses go out in all kinds of weather and all kinds of terrain searching for missing people, police evidence, drug plantations and almost anything else emergency services need found! As a member of a mounted search and rescue unit, some of the searches we’ve been on have involved missing children, murder investigations, police evidence, locating drug crops, & missing people (often feared suicides).
Why do they use horses?
Horses have many advantages in search & rescue situations. Some of these advantages include:
- The ability to cover large areas of ground in a short space of time.
- They provide the rider with an elevated view of the surrounding country side enabling them to cover a much larger area in one ‘sweep’ than someone on foot.
- Horses have much better hearing & sight than people, so will usually hear or spot something different or out of place before the rider does.
- The horses are able to pick their own way through rough terrain, allowing the rider to concentrate 100% on searching. Motorbikes (often used in searches as well) don’t have this advantage!
- Horses often seem less threatening to a missing person. Missing children may even be attracted to the horses.
- Though the horses aren’t usually used in situations considered dangerous, they do provide the rider with a quick escape if a situation became risky.
So what makes a good search horse?
First and foremost, a good search horse needs to have a reasonably quiet, calm & confident temperament. You don’t want them too quiet, as then they may not pick up on sights & sounds that could lead the rider to what they’re looking for, but they (& the rider) have to be able to handle anything you might throw at them.
Search and rescue operations often involve things that many horses may find ‘scary’ such as helicopters or fixed wing aircraft flying low, generators, motorbikes, trucks, radios plus anything different in each location (wildlife etc.). They also need to be easy to load in a trailer & be happy to stand tied next to the trailer as long as needed.
What’s the best breed for a search & rescue horse?
Almost any horse that can handle these things will be suitable, but there is one particular breed that stands heads and shoulders above the rest – the Arab.
Some people might not consider Arabs to have a suitable temperament (too ‘hot’ or ‘spooky’) for searching but keep in mind that most of any horse’s ability to be calm in strange situations comes from the ability of the rider to remain calm.
The main advantages the Arab or even part-bred Arab have over other horses is their ability to go all day (exceptional stamina), sure-footedness in rough terrain and their level of alertness. The Arab horse is usually far more in tune with their surroundings than the average horse – they know exactly what’s going on over the next hill!
Many mounted search & rescue organizations worldwide are realising their benefits and are now making more of an effort to include Arabs or part-breds in their search teams. The natural abilities & traits of the Arab make it a far superior search mount.