Horses used as bloodhounds?

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Horses used as bloodhounds?

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  • 1 Post By KigerQueen

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    01-04-2014, 12:13 AM
Horses used as bloodhounds?

In a discussion comparing dogs to horses, I brought up this article from the Oregonian.

Horses as bloodhounds: 'Lost art' can find lost Oregonians, say practitioners |

TERREBONNE -- An Appaloosa gelding named Joker took 2 minutes and 20 seconds earlier this month to find a carefully hidden volunteer in a 13-acre, semi-wooded field near Terrebonne.

Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins watched, astonished, as Joker and rider George Ehmer, 66, of Milton-Freewater nosed out the hidden volunteer.

It was a dramatic and spectacular demonstration of what practioners call "equine air-scenting." The event was organized by a loosely knit central Oregon group that hopes to use horses in the role of bloodhounds during future backcountry searches.

"They've definitely got my attention," Adkins said Wednesday . "That was a pretty difficult search because the wind kept changing on us. That horse just went right over there and zigged and zagged and zoomed right in."

Horsewoman Kate Beardsley of Redmond arranged the search demonstration with Laurie Adams of Camp Sherman. The pair are assembling a team of a dozen air-scent trained horses and riders that they hope eventually will be deployed around the Northwest when hunters, hikers and others go missing.

"A lot of people don't know that horses do this at all," said Beardsley. "Laurie and I are focused on saving lives."

Lost art

The ranch-raised Beardsley, 47, said a horse's olfactory receptors rival those of a tracking dog. As a horse trainer, professional horse packer and founder of a non-profit horse rescue called Mustangs to the Rescue, Beardsley owns two horses schooled in air-scent techniques and has helped organize air-scent clinics here for six years.
While little-known, the concept has been around awhile.

"I call it the lost art," says horse trainer Terry Nowacki of Argyle, Minn., who began reviving the techniques about 11 years ago. "It is the best-kept secret in the horse world."

Theodore Roosevelt was aware of what horses' noses can do, and hired a hunting guide in the 1880s that "followed his horse's nose to buffalo," according to Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris. Four decades earlier, a mustang called Sacramento repeatedly saved explorer Col. John Fremont's life by scenting enemies along the trail, wrote frontier historian Glenn R. Vernam. Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie also wrote of horses with exceptional noses in his 1952 book, "The Mustangs."

Tracking dogs can outperform horses in thick underbrush, said Nowacki, 57. But horses often hold the advantage because airborne scent rises and horses stand taller than dogs, he said.

Another plus for horses: A tired horse opens its nostrils wider, exposing more olfactory receptors, said Nowacki. A dog, on the other hand, pants when tired and overheated, diminishing its scenting ability.

Letting a horse sniff a hairbrush or article of a missing person's clothing isn't necessary, said Beardsley.

"They will search out the most recent scent, the hottest human scent," she said.

Listening to horses

Nowacki, a professional horse trainer, stumbled onto the usefulness of search horses a dozen years ago in Minnesota while helping to look for a missing 80-year-old Alzheimer's patient, he said.
For three days, searchers and tracking dogs walked a narrow trail to a forest where they believed the missing man became lost, he said. On day three, a horse ridden along the trail stopped suddenly and snorted. The rider glanced down and saw the missing man in the undergrowth. He'd never even made it into the forest that was being searched.

The man survived, and Nowacki began probing the capabilities of horses in search and rescue scenarios. He's since written two books, the "Air Scenting Horse," and, "Equine Language and Communication Journal." Nowacki has a website, Equine Detection Services, and hosts four or five clinics a year on equine air-scenting around the nation, including one here in Terrebonne in early June.

"This is so natural for a horse," Beardsley said. "Horses smell everything, and they tell everyone around them what they smell.'

Chatterboxes by nature, horses communicate with other horses via a complex equine sign language of ear movements, body posture, neck swings, head positions, snorts and exhalations. Riders seldom have a clue what's being said, but horses are stoic about that, said Beardsley.
"They say to themselves, 'I've got a stupid human, and I'll just put up with it,'" she said.

Accordingly, most of Nowacki's clinic time is focused on teaching riders to understand what their horses are trying to communicate.

Adams, who has been through Nowacki's clinics, said she's become so proficient at deciphering her registered Paint gelding Joey's conversation that she knows when he's scenting a deer, a cougar or a human being.

Horses also can be taught to find elk antlers, wild morel mushrooms, illicit marijuana gardens or any number of things, said Beardsley. All that's needed is to reward them with a treat for going to the source of the scent.

Beardsley's Haflinger mare, Mocha, began finding hidden volunteers after a single 10-minute lesson, she said.

"I couldn't hold her back from chasing the scent to the source," she said. "It does blow my socks off."

-- Richard Cockle
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    01-04-2014, 12:25 AM
Green Broke
This could explain why my horse seams to spot people I can't even see. This is amazing though! Maybe horses could be rescued to be used in search and rescue and drug searches of large properties. They might even work better finding dead bodies in the wilderness.
Foxtail Ranch likes this.
    01-04-2014, 01:17 AM
In an age where people load themselves with perfumes and colognes, this isn't that surprising to me, although a bet a "quiet scented" human could be found as well. We humans don't often realize just how much of a scent we give off!

We used to have bloodhounds. One scented by air, the other by ground. The trails those two could pick up! It could be 3 days old, but they'd find and follow it! As this article stated, horses may be able to follow a fresh human trail, but I doubt many could be trained to search for a specific scent. After all, our scent changes minutely depending on what we eat, where we've been, etc. It would be pretty neat if it were done though! I think the hardest part of training for this would be telling the horse you want to rely on its sense of smell. How often do we humans do that?! Usually it's "look where your feet are and go where I say".
    01-04-2014, 08:37 AM
Super Moderator
I can see absolutely no purpose in wasting time on trials with this.
Odds on, your bottom dollar anything you like, I would wager that if someone stood in the middle of an open grass field in full view, and someone sent a horse to go find them that the horse would stop and graze!
    01-04-2014, 10:01 AM
This is interesting, for sure. But a part in the article explains that the horse is working off of the most recent human scent and that you don't give them one to go off of, so what if you're trying to find someone near a high traffic trail? They most likely won't follow the correct scent.

Cool article though. I love hearing about how strong horses senses are. Read an interesting one about their sight the other day too.
    01-04-2014, 10:15 AM
I have seen articles about that and thought for sure it was a joke! I do think horses have wonderful senses of smell and such and are very smart, but to actually use one for tracking... I agree with FoxHunter that the horse would stop to eat! If the person was right where they took a bite, then hey, they are found!
    01-04-2014, 09:31 PM
That's not true that they would stop to eat. Look at police dogs/tracking dogs- there are squirrels, birds, other dogs, wildlife etc which can distract them from doing their job, yet they do it and are very good at it too. Plus I think eating would be discouraged by their handler.

If I wasn't sick, I would love to try this with my horse. She likes to track other horses on the trail. She walks with her nose on the ground like a bloodhound while sniffing. My friend told me she's only seen stallions do that! I have to keep reminding her to bring her head up. It's just one of her cute little personality quirks.
    01-04-2014, 09:54 PM
I think this is fascinating, and it could definitely come in handy in search and rescues in larger, less-populated areas. A horses' stamina would greatly outlast that of people searching on foot with dogs.

Take for example a story I saw on one of those "I Shouldn't Be Alive" shows - a woman went jogging with her dog in some desert area, a canyon I think, fell and broke her ankle. It took days, and the help of her dog, to be found. In a case like that, getting an 'equine air-scenter' in could have helped.

It definitely won't replace bloodhounds, but I still think they'd come in handy.
    01-05-2014, 10:34 AM
Originally Posted by 4horses    
That's not true that they would stop to eat. Look at police dogs/tracking dogs- there are squirrels, birds, other dogs, wildlife etc which can distract them from doing their job, yet they do it and are very good at it too. Plus I think eating would be discouraged by their handler.

If I wasn't sick, I would love to try this with my horse. She likes to track other horses on the trail. She walks with her nose on the ground like a bloodhound while sniffing. My friend told me she's only seen stallions do that! I have to keep reminding her to bring her head up. It's just one of her cute little personality quirks.
Ha! Actually now that you mention that, I forgot that my mare does that as well! She is all for stopping to snack too though, but when she has her nose on a smell, she does focus pretty well. And she loves to stop and inhale over fresh manure like it is the most sweet smelling perfume. We laugh at her for it.

I just can't imagine the training it would take. How does the horse signal to the human, and the human to the horse?

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