Not just horsin’ around: Search team uses horses to find lost people

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Stacy Vogel
Sunday, June 14, 2009
— The 4-year-old horse couldn’t understand why his rider wanted him to plow through the woods when a perfectly good path lay nearby.

He bucked and danced, making it clear he was not about to go tramping through the brush.

In fact, there was no pressing reason for Ranger to walk through the trees Saturday afternoon. But his owner, Jelaine Goehl, wants him to learn how in case they’re called on to find a missing person in the woods.

Goehl and Ranger are part of the Whitewater Area Mounted Search Team and Rescue, a volunteer group that uses horses to help find missing people in Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties.

Sandy Olds, Whitewater, started the group in August 2006 after an autistic child went missing in her neighborhood and she volunteered to help search by horseback.

“It got me thinking that there might actually be a need” for the group, she said.

Horses have some advantages over other search methods, such as foot patrols, cars and all-terrain vehicles, Olds said. They can reach places cars and ATVs cannot but still move quickly, she said.

The rider gets a good view of the area from atop a horse, and the horse can help in the search.

“A good rescue horse will alert the rider as to what’s out there,” she said.

Plus, a horse might draw a frightened child out of hiding, she said.

The team has helped in three searches so far—one for a missing Edgerton woman and two for a missing Whitewater boy. Though the team didn’t find the missing person in those cases, it’s confident it helped law enforcement in the searches.

The team trains the horses in summer through weekly meetings, all-day sessions and mock searches.

Saturday, the horses searched for stuffed animals in and around Gibbs Lake Park. The riders practiced guiding the horses side-by-side across a field and woods and spent time near cows and water to get the horses used to unknown elements.

They planned to spend Saturday night in the park so they could practice riding in the dark.

The exercises proved too much for young Ranger on his first time out, and Goehl took him home. Lady, a 23-year-old mare, offered a better example by calmly walking through her paces with owner Jim Sizer.

The team spends winter learning skills such as map reading, communication and first aid. It takes more work than people might think, members said.

“It’s not a social club,” said Sue Nardini, Janesville. “It’s very sociable, but that’s not the reason we do this.”


For more information about the Whitewater Area Mounted Search Team and Rescue, visit www.wamstar.org or contact Chairwoman Kricket Jewett at (608) 868-2609 or info@wamstar.org.

Last updated: 10:42 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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