by Pete Fields, TrotSAR Mounted Search and Rescue Team Commander (first published in the June 2022 Equiery)
The equine community is an amazing and diverse universe. We enjoy our horses and their abilities in such activities as endurance riding, combined training and just plain old long trail rides. There is a magic in clearing jumps, negotiating rugged and challenging trails, and other sports that blend unity of rider and horse.
There is another equine pursuit that is not so glamorous or flashy, but is equally satisfying. Using equines for search and rescue blends toughness and persistence to enhance the capability of the human. Called “Force Multiplier” in the military, the result is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This may not seem logical, but it is true. TrotSAR, Mounted Search and Rescue Team offers this enhanced capability to the emergency services community.
TrotSAR was established by Trail Riders of Today (TROT) in 1992. A Mounted Search and Rescue Team consists of certified horsemen riding certified horses to locate and rescue victims who become lost or injured. “Certification” requires that both horse and rider separately, then together, undergo training to recognized standards in search methods, land navigation, and First Aid/CPR. The ability of horse and rider to perform necessary rescue tasks together is also evaluated. All deployable members attend a minimum of 40 hours of in-service training annually and have received certifications from the Department of Homeland Security for the National Incident Management System (NIMS), Incident Command System (ICS) and the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) courses.
All operational members have also obtained the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR) SAR TECH III, Maryland Natural Resource Police Search Team Member (STM) course or the Virginia Department of Emergency Management Field Team Member (FTM) course certification. Several members have obtained the NASAR SAR TECH II certification, with most members obtaining wilderness first aid certification (or higher). Skills needed to be successful are practiced at monthly team training and at regional Search and Rescue Exercises (SAREX’s). Our expectations are that a TrotSAR operator is a self sufficient first responder resource and carries equipment and supplies for a minimum deployment period of 72 hours, including first-aid and basic survival equipment, and is expected to be able to carry out mounted tasks for up to six hours at a time.
Since its founding, the TrotSAR team has responded to various state and local agencies to help find missing children, lost hikers, or people with dementia who just wandered off. Over the years, the team has searched for lost hunters in Garrett County, wandering people in the tri-state region, an autistic child near Kings Dominion, and downed aircraft on the Maryland–Pennsylvania border and in western Virginia. We search in pairs, never alone. We search for clues, since there is often only one victim, but many clues; we just have to find them. Since the horse has a keen sense of smell and awareness of movement, we utilize the horse’s body language to detect either clues or the victim.
After 9-11, TrotSAR became a stand-alone organization as directed by the Department of Homeland Security. In order to be recognized as a valid resource, the team negotiated memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the Maryland State Police and Maryland Natural Resources Police, which are the regional organizations that call on the various teams to meet search and rescue needs. The result is a very experienced, well-trained, and motivated team of horsemen that readily serves the needs of the community covering FEMA Region 3.
Our membership comes primarily from Northern Virginia, and Central and Southern Maryland. At present, the Team has a strength of 15 members, of which three are on temporary leave of absence. With the completion of their Field Team Member or Search Team Member courses, we will welcome three of our newest members into the ranks of fully-qualified search operators. They are: Linda Furr and her equine partner Moonshine, Karen Koch with Gabriel, and Amanda Halsey with Orion.
We invite you as members of the equine community to join and stretch your skills in the service of the community at large. For more information please contact the Assistant Commander and Training Officer Janet van der Vaart at 703-307-6250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about TrotSAR, visit TrotSAR.org.