Horseback teams are often called upon to cover tough terrain in an attempt to find lost or injured hikers and other backcountry enthusiasts. The team members’ roles are as varied as the situations they face.

This is what they’ve trained for: the midnight phone call, loading their horses in the dark, the drive to a remote command post to take on an assignment. The weather’s often bad, the terrain difficult, the results too often tragic or inconclusive. But to hundreds of horseback search-and-rescue teams, the rewards are beyond measure.

Most mounted search-and-rescue teams are affiliated with local sheriff’s departments. The teams tend to be highly organized, with regular meetings, training sessions and strict membership qualifications. Missions range from searching for a lost child to packing out an injured hiker to corralling a stray horse.

MSAR missions often take place in wilderness areas, where vehicle access is restricted by both regulations and lack of roads. In a quick search, riders rapidly cover and eliminate trails or large open areas, stopping frequently to call and listen. In a thorough search, the riders move slowly over the terrain, usually within sight of one another, scanning the ground and vegetation for clues.

Horses for such teams must be in good shape for trail riding. As is the case with their riders, horses undergo training and must pass performance evaluations before they’re cleared for missions. MSAR horses must quickly load into a trailer, stand quietly while tied or being held with other horses, carry two riders, conquer 45-degree slopes, work in a group, cross water, and stay calm among moving vehicles, headlights, sirens and helicopters.

For the rest of this article, pick up a copy of Western Horseman‘s September 2006 issue.

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