Horse Certification - June 11, 2011

posted Jun 13, 2011, 7:20 AM by Sharon Kenney   [ updated Nov 2, 2011, 8:10 AM ]
Re-printed from The Horse's Maine:

It takes a special horse-rider team to be on the Mounted Search and Rescue Unit. It just is not natural for a horse to stand quietly as a nearby gun is fired or to remain calm as an ATV whizzes by or to be ponied near a strange horse or to stand while a hysterical, person is running directly at them But horses are incredible in their desire and ability to do what is asked of them. We only need to teach them to trust us as their leader in any novel situation. If given the time and practice almost all horses can do it because it is all about exposure and trust, building a true, lasting partnership between horse and rider.

These were some of the tests on which Faye Whitten of E. Waterboro riding Timber (a Quarter Horse), Janice Hatch of Harrison riding Bailey (a Missouri Fox Trotter), and Rachel Desley of Limerick riding Prince (an American Warmblood--a Percheron-Thoroughbred cross) were evaluated by two judges (Claire Labbe and Heather Labbe) on June 11. Their horses were exposed to various distraction to illustrate their calmness and control in preparation for a real search and rescue mission. The certification process started with the gathering late Friday afternoon at the Maine Trail Riders club grounds in Litchfield with the riders setting up their sleeping arrangements and meals with only the equipment they carried on their horse--no cozy beds in the trailer or stove-cooked meal. As the sun set and the darkness fell over the land, those brave souls tacked up their horses for a required night ride led by Nancy Weeks who trekked the 4+ miles on foot. Their skills were tested when Nancy faked a fall claiming to have an injured ankle. Since the riders were trained in first aid, they handled the situation perfectly by assessing the damage, stabilizing her, and safely putting her on the smallest horse for easy transport. After the night ride which ended at 10:35 pm they settled in for a supposed restful night while their horses were high-tied away from their trailers. My horse Flame and I trekked and roughed it with them, and what an experience to see the night sparkled by the abundant fireflies and to be serenaded by a euphony of frogs croaking and horses munching hay. The rather long night gave me an awareness of the closeness and toughness the frontierswomen had for this wild earth and an appreciation for the technological advances we have made. The breaking of a new dawn marked the beginning of the rest of the tests--loading the horse in a strange trailer by a stranger, leaving the horse in a trailer for at least 15 minutes unattended, saddling and mounting without assistance, performing the three basic gaits while fully outfitted with rescue equipment, passing clothing from one person to another while on the horse, and being subjected to a variety of distractions and noises as they meandered down the trail and roads.

Since we never know the circumstances in which we might be in an actual search and rescue operation, we must have a trusting and dependable relationship with our horse. As Janice Hatch said of her horse, “Bailey is only 6 years old…I knew she was calm and would do what I asked of her.” This was Rachel Desley’s first time camping with her horse, and “I found this to be a lot of fun, and I am proud my horse was so good, especially being subjected to such new situations”. “Putting my horse through this test and the night ride really strengthened our partnership” according to Faye Whitten. Congratulations to Janice, Rachel and Faye for passing the various tests with excellent marks. We welcome these three new partners to our Unit. If you are interested in information about the Mounted Search and Rescue Unit, contact Janice at