ETMSAR About US Page

East Texas Mounted Search and Rescue

ETMSAR Overview
By Ron Fillmore

In 2010 a local resident and his wife who are into horses got the idea of starting a mounted search and rescue organization.  This was Andy and Diana Stewart.  They are responsible for giving this organization life.  The word was passed around and eventually a number of people in the areas expressed interest.  A meeting was set up to discuss and plan the organization.  Over a period of time numerous additional meetings were held in which a name for the organization was agreed upon, a logo, and application for a 501C3 tax exempt status was initiated.  By Laws and an organization with officers established.  Eventually a Policy and Procedures Manual was developed.

Andy Stewart was elected as Chairman of the Board, a position he served for 5 years.  Novelene Thurston is the current Chairman of the Board.

After much discussion the name decided on was East Texas Mounted Search and Rescue.  ETMSAR!   A logo was selected along with a motto.

“We ride so others might live”
Other considerations such as equipment, both for the organization its self, and for the members were explored.  It became apparent either a van type vehicle or a trailer would be required to contain such things as supplies, radio equipment, and to use as a base of operations.  A trailer was decided on.

As the organization came together it became apparent we would need to raise funds for the needed equipment.   Raffles were put together for this purpose.  

Andy found a company that could provide various garments such as shirts, caps, etc. with the ETMSAR logo embroidered on them.  A blue denim shirt was chosen as the field shirt.   Members chose to add a US Flag to the right shoulder and a Texas Flag to the left shoulder.  For parades and such a white western shirt with black piping is used with a ETMSAR logo attached.   US and Texas Flags along with an ETMSAR flag are available for a mounted color guard.

There are some obvious advantages of conducting searches from the back of a horse.  One of the most important is the rider's elevated position.  Eye level is 3-4 feet higher than a person on foot.  This allows a wider field of vision, making it easier to spot clues and other objects several feet further away than would be possible from a person on the ground.  Instead of foot searchers walking a line 2-3 feet apart riders can be 10-12 feet apart and cover just as much visually. Additionally, the horse does the “watch where stepping”!

Horses also have acute senses of smell and sight.   They can be aware of things most humans would not.   Any knowledgeable riders learn to be aware of his or her horses ears.  They are a tip off where the horse's attention is focused, and how intense that focus might be.  I remember when I was a child my dad's uncle disappeared while hunting.  Searchers were combing the area where last seen.   There were a couple of riders in the group.  One's horse suddenly shied and focused his attention on an area. Rider couldn't see anything and attempted to move on.  Horse was still focused on that area, and was at a heightened level of alertness.  Rider decided to move closer, and found the missing man's body obscured by sagebrush.   Had the horse not sensed something abnormal, the body might not have been discovered until much later.  Such sensory abilities are mostly missing from humans.

ETMSAR riders are encouraged to pay attention to their horse's demeanor.   For this reason riders should be very familiar with the horse they are riding so they are able to pick up on abnormal behavior.  This is one of the reasons riders must be mounted on horses they are certified to ride during actual or simulated search and rescue exercises.  Another, equally important reason is to be confident a particular horse and rider can work together as a team.  We want to reduce as much as possible the chances of any rodeos during a search.   A horse may be certified for more than one rider.  Certification of horses and riders requires a process conducted by ETMSAR evaluators who observe the horse and rider working together on a series of check offs.  Final certification is signed off by the ETMSAR Lead Evaluator relying on the recommendation of the evaluator conducting the tests.  This requirement of being on a horse one is certification on is waived for training exercises, recreational trail rides and such.  Evaluators are often able to observe and check off some certification items during such events.

There are two Certification Check off lists.  A preliminary, where the rider is observed to be properly attired with long pants, suitable foot ware, (no flip flops) and demonstrates proper handling and saddling of the horse.   Horse must demonstrate calmness and tractability, and be properly groomed, no obvious injuries, feet properly trimmed and/or shod, and in good overall condition.

Other responsibilities of the Lead Evaluator include the certification of additional evaluators as needed.  This is done by the Lead Evaluator observing a prospective Assistant Evaluator conducting an evaluation of a horse and rider.  Also keeping records of who is certified on what horse, who has kept current with the minimum training and simulated or actual search events, that the horses all have a current Coggins Certificate from a Veterinarian, and improving training standards and methods as required.

Once horses and riders are certified a photo ID tag is created for each.  The horse ID tag lists the rider(s) who have been certified on that particular horse.  ID tags are to be displayed during actual and simulated searches.

The group became aware of other considerations as experience was gained.  The necessity of having certain items available to the mounted teams was soon apparent.

Outfitted horse and rider

Saddle bags became a required item of tack containing specific items as well as other items carried on the rider's person.  Other items are recommended. This list has been expanded and revised as the group has gained experience.   .

The ETMSAR trailer is indispensable.   It not only serves as the group's headquarters, it contains a base radio facility and hand held radios for up to a dozen riders, it has a weather station to monitor temperatures and humidity.  There are cabinets for various items, a portable generator, flood lights, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), and equine first aid kits.  It is here that riders and ground support members check in, are issued radios,  other equipment needed for the search, and receive a briefing on the missing person(s).  It also serves as a link to the agency or law enforcement unit in charge of the search.   As important as the mounted riders are, without ground support members to set up and man the trailer, ETMSAR would be very hard pressed to function.

The group's By Laws require semiannual search and rescue simulations.  Each member must attend at least one simulation or actual search each calendar year to maintain membership.

Also, there are scheduled Monthly Mounted Events, or MMEs.  These can be for training purposes, both mounted and unmounted, or just fun trail rides and play day events with the horses. 

Attempts are made at MMEs and training exercises to expose the horses to as many new experiences as possible.  This helps build the trust that is mandatory between horse and rider.   The group has elected to not do exercises and play events that require speed.  For the horses to be reliable S&R horses they must be content to move over ground at a slower pace to insure the riders have time to get a good look at the ground.  Riders are encouraged to practice looking at the ground as a means of training their eyes to notice anything out of place.  Such as a cigarette stub, a candy wrapper, or a foot print.  This does require practice.  They are encouraged to do this even when on foot so it becomes second nature to notice what isn't a natural part of the ground.

Safety is of paramount concern.   Safety for the riders is one of the reasons for certification of riders on particular horses.  ETMSAR wants to know that rider is as safe as possible on that horse.  Riders must demonstrate safe handling of their mount.  Safety for the horses is just as important.  The certification process evaluates the horse as critically as the rider.  Iii mannered horses that can not get along with other horses, that tend to kick at or bite other horses are not allowed.  Stallions are not allowed because some stallions, not all, can be unmanageable around other horses, particularly mares in heat.  Concern is also considered in the type and location of searches.  Areas of boggy or otherwise dangerous terrain are to be avoided.  As there is always a possibility of injury to horses, each search team carries an equine first aid kit for emergencies involving the horses.

An additional consideration for ETMSAR horses is the heat and humidity of East Texas. Horses, like people, regulate their body heat by perspiration.  They sweat!  However, the higher the humidity the less evaporation of the perspiration and the less cooling effect.  This can be lethal for horses and humans.  For this reason the Ground Support Trailer is equipped with a weather station displaying current temperature and humidity monitored by the Ground Support members.  A Heat Index For Horses was developed so Ground Support is able to warn riders if conditions become dangerous for the horses.

Heat Index for Horses

With high temperatures and high humidity we put our horses at risk if ridden in conditions detrimental to their well being.  The following guideline is recommended for ETMSAR Horses.

Determine heat index for horses using the following formula:

Temperature (F) plus % humidity minus wind speed.

Example:  Temperature 97 Degrees F
                      Humidity 80 %
                      Index     177
                      Minus wind   10 MPH         
                      Total index   167

It is suggested the wind adjustment be waived as wind can vary greatly from the location of the base station, and riders are often in areas not exposed to wind.  This allows a more conservative assessment.

Index less than 130, no restrictions assuming adequate hydration

Index 131-165, use caution!  Some cooling procedures should be available such as shade with adequate air flow, and if possible a cooling rinse.  An additional caution here:  If horses are rinsed, excess water should be removed as much as possible because the water will not evaporate and will quickly reach body temperature, thereby forming a warm, wet insulation.  Any cooling effect will be lost.

Index 166-180, use extreme caution!  Well ventilated shade and cooling rinse must be sough ASAP!  It is recommended this index range be avoided if at all possible.

Index over 180, DO NOT RIDE!

Over the several years since the founding of ETMSAR there have been many members come and go.  Some have moved away from the area, but many dropped out when it became apparent the group is not a recreational club.  It requires dedication to attending meetings, simulations, and training exercises.  There remains a core of original members who have committed to ETMSAR.  Most are middle aged and retired from their careers. It goes without saying ETMSAR is always seeking new members.  It would be ideal to have a roster of at least 20 riders available to call upon when actually needed for a S&R.  It is a fact of life that not all members can be available on short notice on any particular day.  It would be very advantageous to be able to field 8-10 riders on any calls that might occur.   It would be of further advantage to have riders available scattered of a wide area of East Texas that can be on scene as soon as possible for call outs in their general areas.


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