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Equine Air Scenting Detection, A Life Saving Tool

Air scenting is a detection tool that had proven its worth as a reliable search menthol since first being used widely in the United States during the 1960s. The air scenting detection animal does not need a trail to follow. It searches for a subject by first finding and then following the light airborne human scent to its source.

The air scenting search method is widely used in SAR because it offers a wider window of opportunity of when and how it can be used compared to that of ground tracking. Since this method is oriented to scent that is directly coming off the missing subject, time elapsed since disappearance is not a factor. The advantages of using air scenting as a detection tool are known worldwide.

The Scent Detection Equine Can Save Precious Time and Lives!

I can tell you of two major national known searches, which took place in the last year, where after weeks and months of searching, the search effort failed. During these searches, they used all the common methods available. These methods included many K9s plus ground and air search techniques. Expanded secondary searches many months later did locate bodies, right out in the open, only approximately one mile from the center focal point of the original search. Why did the original search effort fail? The answer is because search management  needed a search tool  that could effectively search a large area in a short time, but it was not available to them. The air scenting detection equine can fill this need.

MSAR can use the abilities of a scent detection equine in at least two ways:

1. As a fully trained certified search tool.

2 . Receive a minimum amount of training, so members learn to recognize some of the alert signals that horses naturally will give when they encounter  human or cadaver scent on a search.

Groups learn a lot at my clinics, but probably the most important thing they learn is to how to read their horses during a search. This is extremely important even if they decide not to train a finished air scenting detection horse. People have told me of experiences while they were on a mounted search, their horses started acting different. It was not until the missing victim was found later that they realized that when their horses were acting differently, they were very close to the missing victim. I wonder how many times the victim was never found when mounted searchers failed to correctly read their horses' sign language?

The Bottom Line

If MSAR teams have not received at least a minimum amount of equine scent detection training, they are not using MSAR to its full potential.

Recovery (Cadaver) Horse Test/ Demonstration

After giving a public invitation to over 70 people representing sheriff’s departments, SAR and SAR K9s, from a five-county area, I presented a first-of-its-kind cadaver horse demonstration on a very cold Nov. 21 Minnesota morning. Temperatures were well below freezing plus wind-chill factors.

Bars Allusion (a 12-year-old quarter horse) and Countrylanes Blue Radar )a yearling miniature) share the title of the first proven cadaver detection equines.

My demonstration horses included one riding horse with only 12 hours of cadaver training that was spread out evenly over 22 days, (plus a small amount of my foundation air scent training) and a yearling miniature horse. I did not use my experienced live human air scent horse because I wanted to prove that many different horses can be trained successfully for air scent locating work.

From the group that witnessed this groundbreaking demonstration, some may have come skeptical but they left as believers. I believe a quote from an out-of-state SAR professional who witnessed this demonstration says it all: "I expected to see success and I saw it."

All standards for this test/demonstration, including test area size, etc., were taken from a surface field test used by NASAR, a nationwide SAR organization, as part of the process to certify cadaver K9s. The difficult levels of this horse scenting test met or exceeded the NASAR standards. (This was not a NASAR approved test.) The test was set up by a SAR certification officer. The judges were the certification officer plus the group of observers. The cadaver material was less than 15 grams ( that is less than 1/2 ounce). The cadaver material was hidden and camouflaged before I arrived at the test area with my two demonstration horses.

For this test, my horses were blindfolded to prevent skeptics from saying that the horses were searching by sight. During the first part of the search, I rode the 12-year-old search horse until he picked up the first trace of cadaver scent, which he confirmed to me by his silent alert signals. I marked this spot with a flag.

(We later found that the distance at this point was 110 ft from the hidden cadaver material.) I continued on with the search pattern until the horse showed a stronger silent alert signal. At this point, in order to prove beyond a doubt that the horse was working totally on his own, I dismounted and turned my horse completely free in an open field to locate the cadaver source on his own. After losing and relocating the scent drift, the loose horse then actively searched out and located the hidden cadaver material from a distance of 50 feet (remember the horse was blindfolded). The horse located the source of the cadaver scent within the 30-minute time frame allowed by the NASAR standards used for this test. The yearling miniature horse was also tested successfully according to the K9 cadaver standards.

In order to make the test more difficult and for proofing reasons, some road kill wildlife was also placed out in the test area. This did not fool the human cadaver trained horses. One horse completely ignored the scent while the other only gave me one signal that something was up-wind but did not try to follow the scent.

What did this prove?

It proves a wide variety of horses can be trained for cadaver area/air scent locating.

It also proves that horses can scent discriminate for SAR.         

( For MSAR training, see Clinics page)

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