Mounted search/rescue team marks two years
Ever since it was first founded about two years ago, the Clark County Mounted Search and Rescue Team has had the goal of serving the community and of helping local emergency crews find missing persons.
Working with their horses across the diverse terrain of Clark County, the group members have continued to grow closer and have learned better strategies to help serve the public more effectively.
The second such program to be developed in the state, the Clark County Mounted Search and Rescue Team had quite a learning curve to conquer to get to where it is today. Sgt. Marty Schwantes of the Clark County Sheriff’s Department and Rob Rinehart of Willard — who both serve as leaders of the group — said they have faced a lot of challenges in the past two years, but that the group has really grown in many ways to make them a real asset, and has the confidence to even work outside of the community.
“Our thing is to be prepared” Schwantes said. “The group is confident. Two or three weeks ago, there was a missing child reported in the northern part of the state. They (the search and rescue team) actually offered their horses and assistance to help look for the child. They found the child and we never went up there, but volunteering in that way says a lot to their confidence. To be able to help and be an asset is a good thing. We would like to continue to help in other places and branch out.”
A lot of work has been done to get the team confident and comfortable with the many different environments the riders may find themselves in when searching for a missing person, and with the different procedures they need to use to be the most effective in the field. Schwantes said the group has held mock trainings, either alone or with other emergency departments, to help the team develop.
“One of the things we do is we go to different locations in the county to give the volunteers a variety of areas to be familiar with,” he said. “We put a volunteer out in the woods and then do a mock rescue. Formation riding is a big part in navigating the woods. Confidence courses, making sure that the horses will be able to continue to perform. Obviously, with the whole COVID thing, it put a damper on training. COVID shut us down, but we are doing training again in the near future and have things planned, especially field time.”
Despite the challenge that COVID-19 brought to the search and rescue team, Schwantes and Rinehart said the group still found ways to continue to work with each other outside of mock training runs.
“So we have gotten together a couple times,” Rinehart said. “We went through some procedure stuff and everybody’s on the same page.”
As they have continued to work together, Rinehart said there have been some very important lessons the group has come to learn about search and rescue operations. These lessons only help to make the team more aware of their environment and help them locate missing persons faster, he said.
“The most important thing is spacing,” he said. “In ground searches, spacing between the riders is important so we don’t miss something. Really every woods is different, so deciding on what to do at each location is important. Another thing we have learned as a group is to go in silent. When we used to go in, we’d be talking, but if we communicate too much, we forget to stop and listen and get out of line. You go quiet unless you need to stop, everyone’s learning that. It’s a good team, everyone knows what we’re out there for.”
Besides working on their individual skills and cohesion as a team, Rinehart and Schwantes said the team has also been making some improvements to the gear that they and their horses carry into the woods with them. These improvements, he said, have been donated by area riding clubs such as the Clark County Pleasure Riders of Greenwood and the Circle T Saddle Club of Thorp. Through fundraisers, those groups have helped equip the team.
“The group itself took the bull by the horns and did a fundraiser,” Schwantes said. “It has no impact on our overall budget (the Clark County Sheriff’s Department). It’s a good thing. It allows us to get the tools we need to do the job, but have no impact on taxpayers.”
The first donated materials were purchased with more than $1,500 in funds raised by the Clark County Pleasure Riders from an obstacle course event held in July. With the money, Rinehart said the search and rescue team was able to purchase basic equipment such as saddle bags, halters, climbing rope, foil blankets, vet wrap, multi tools and orange vests, to make sure each rider on the team has the same standard equipment to use.
“We wanted to make sure everyone had a set. Some already had everything, but some needed to catch up,” he said. “This helps us because you never know what will happen out there or what you will need.”
The Circle T Saddle Club of Thorp also raised approximately $1,200 for the team. With those funds, Rinehart said he hopes to purchase some more orange accessories such as horse vests, reins and bridles to increase the team’s visibility in the woods.
With many of their search and rescue missions happening in the fall when people are out hunting, he said it is important for the riders and their horses to be easily seen and recognized by each other and anyone else out in the woods with them.
“Circle T Saddle Club in Thorp also raised about $1,200 for more equipment, which will be used to purchase more gear for the horses, bridles reins and orange saddle pads to add some color to the horse,” he said. “Sometimes we are doing searches in hunting season, we want them to be safe as well. Being able to see each other really helps our efficiency.”