[MSAR] Advanced Scent Detection Horses

Terry Nowacki wwfarm at wiktel.com
Wed Jun 28 10:29:21 EDT 2006

Advanced Scent Detection Horses

Since I have worked with many members of this list on beginning training
steps for scent detection.  I thought some may be interested in reading
how some of my advance students are doing.  See write up below.


The Ultimate Scent Detection Demonstration

This spring I put on an Equine Sign Language/ Scent Detection Clinic for a group horsemen
and natural horsemanship enthusiasts (mostly non-SAR personnel) at Tumbleweed Stables
in southern Nebraska. (Tumbleweed Stables is a brand new, full service training/boarding/
overnight boarding facility located near Sidney, Nebraska.) Participants for the clinic included
three trailer loads of horses and people that came from northern Nebraska.  The participants
that came from northern Nebraska were members of  the Ponderosa SAR INC.  Ponderosa
SAR offers a variety of search tools that include: ATVs, mounted, ground and scent detection.
Ponderosa SAR are trailblazing and proving how great a combination of scent detection tools
(dogs and horses) work together by doing public demonstrations in front of law enforcement,
firemen, etc. They traveled from northern Nebraska to attend my clinic because they knew
the value of information presented, since I have put on several clinics in their area in the past.

After I concluded the second day of my two day clinic, the non SAR people of the group were
intrigued by the idea of learning more about how Search and Rescue, equine sign language and
equine scent detection all work together. Since the non-SAR people wanted to learn more,
members of Ponderosa SAR said they would do a mock search.  I  was asked to set up a
search scenario and without the search teams knowledge, I went out, placed one person in an
ideal hiding spot and  than  found a great second location where I hid a shirt in a washout ravine
(the shirt had been worn  the night before by one of the non SAR clinic participants). I then
found an ideal viewing point for the remainder of the group to observe the search. The search
area's terrain was made up of approximately 75 acres of rolling hills and grassland that was
intertwined with ravines. From our high viewing point, myself and other observers were able
to view about 60% of the search teams' progress as it unfolded.  

For this mock search Ponderosa SAR used four well trained K-9s and two mounted searchers.
The four dogs and the two horses were trained, tested and certified by this group in scent detection
for search and rescue.  I enjoy watching good dogs and horses work and I have the utmost
respect for SAR K-9s, so I knew I was about to witness a display that has only ever been
viewed by a select few.

As they started their search, the mounted handlers set up and followed a precision, quick-paced
search. They used a flexible grid that met the needs of the challenging, rolling terrain and wind flow.
As the mounted searchers used human reasoning power to guide their unique combination search
teams through the assigned area, it was nothing less than spectacular to see the well trained scent
detection search tools (dogs and horses), each doing their jobs. The K-9s were able to get in to
every nook, cranny, and washout where the horse could not easily reach, and the horses were
using their long necks as a scent detecting probes to catch each wisp of high flying illusive scent
that came their way. The mounted handlers had "the best seat in the house" to observe their
dogs' indications and to observe, feel and hear their horses indications.  After the team had
searched approximately 30 acres, Gretchen, one of the mounted handlers called in to our
observer group by radio and stated that Pepsi, her scent detection horse, was using equine
sign language, giving an indication to Gretchen that the horse had picked up on human scent
in their search area. After Gretchen radioed in, we all watched as Pepsi was given  his head
and set off on a mission, heading directly into the wind, over a hill and found the first hidden
subject of the search. As Gretchen later reported, and we witnessed, the distance from where
she first reported the indication to the hiding subject was about 500 feet up and over a hill.  The
search continued, after they covered about 65 acres of the search area, Gretchen once again
called in by radio and reported that her horse Pepsi had given her another indication. Once
again we watch as Gretchen and her horse Pepsi headed straight into the wind a distance of
about 200 feet and found the well hidden shirt.

After the team came in our whole group critiqued the search. This combination horse and dog
scent detection team had searched the rolling grass covered hills and ravines area of approximately
75 acres in about 45 minutes with 100% detection. Gretchen told the group that normally her
dogs do their share when it comes to scent detection, but since the temperatures were about 80
degrees, they were unable pick be able to pick up long distance scent. All I can say is it was a
mock search to remember, it was pure enjoyment to see both the dogs and horses doing a great
job of covering the search area in record time. I wish all SAR personnel including management
and law enforcement could witness this type of search.

Plans are in the process to bring me back (some where) to Nebraska next year, if any SAR
personnel  would like to participant or observe a mock search as described above, please let me know.

If any one would like to contact Tumbleweed Stables or Ponderosa SAR INC.  please contact me
privately and I will relay contact information to you.

Terry Nowacki
Training Officer and Director for Marshall County Mounted Sheriff's Posse -
An 80 plus membership MSAR organization.

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