Horse News

Feel Good Sunday: Mustangs to the Rescue

Tracking Horses Act Like Bloodhounds


By Richard Cockle / The Oregonian  Published: June 22. 2013 4:00AM PST

George Ehmer tightens a halter on Joker, his Appaloosa gelding, on June 14 on his property near Milton-Freewater. Joker is an air-scent trained horse who could eventually be deployed around the Northwest when hunters, hikers and others go missing. - Richard Cockle / The Oregonian

Richard Cockle / The Oregonian

George Ehmer tightens a halter on Joker, his Appaloosa gelding, on June 14 on his property near Milton-Freewater. Joker is an air-scent trained horse who could eventually be deployed around the Northwest when hunters, hikers and others go missing.

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 backcountry searches.

“They’ve definitely got my attention,” Adkins said. “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. They 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.”

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 nonprofit 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 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.

Nowacki has 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 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.”

16 replies »

  1. I would think that the Mustangs might have the keenest sense of smell. How can anyone think of this magnificent creature as non-sentient.


  2. Awesome.

    And didn’t someone just say that burros also had great “noses” to find water and had saved prospectors’ lives and bet they could do this “job” also?


  3. Once again, a wonderful example of the horse-human relationship where horses serve humans. That’s why sending horses to slaughter is the ultimate betrayal and why it most certainly should never be. Animals have so much to teach us if people would choose to open their eyes and see it.


  4. As a species, our superiority comes from guns, steel and poison. We have yet to test our survival through our senses. What exists in the natural world, in wild horses, burros, wolves, etc. may well be lost altogether in humans, in which case, “The meek (really) will inherit the earth”.


  5. This is such a great story. So much that humans ask of Horses is not natural or comfortable for them. A human activity that they actually enjoy is a welcome change of pace. They do seem to enjoy trail rides, but that’s pretty natural to them, too.


  6. What more do our awesome Horses have to do?????? WOW now there Bloodhounds also !!!!!! These beauties just keep on finding new ways to show how worthy they really are, they had me Hello !!!!!!!!!! We have yet to witness all they have to offer !!! A Huge WOOOOO HOOO for the Horses and Burros !! !!!!!!!!!


  7. My favorite Appaloosa was a mare who ws my World Champion Cutting Horse I have her son a leopard gelding today. She was retired from showing and for 10 years before she passed we were part of the local search and rescue team on horse back in Illinois. Whomever we were looking for whether lost in the State Park, or missing from a home in the rural areas, or looking for a body (happened) she always would seem to look at the photos of the people, nose into to look at maps and listen to the voice instructions, but what always got everyone was she would nose, muzzle, and even taste the fabric or items the lost left behind. She was spot on! We had quite a few successes. I believe many animals come home, because the scent they are looking for is somehow permeated into their sense of smell and they can locate our homes or just us from many miles away. While science still discounts whats animals can do, and ironically the horse industry dismisses-because they don’t want to believe that animals are really that intelligent, I believe our animals are still a wealth of information if we dive into who they ARE instead of just labeling them a horse, equine, farm animals, but really understand-once my Great Grandmother who was Native American Indian said to me, “the animals, they know.” I think we are just really starting to “learn” that they already “knew”.


  8. It really is not surprising if you watch how Zebra react to the smell of predators on the plains in Africa. Their noses tell them they are there and where they are. This is how they have protected themselves for millions of years long before any of us were around.


  9. This was interesting. So they can be used in much the same fashion as dogs.. And yet puerile wasn’t to eat them?


  10. This is a most informative article. This only makes sense and horse are very sensitive to what goes on around them so this should not be surprising. I am so happy that someone has the will to save the beautiful horse that is such a symbol of a free spririt.


  11. Wouldnt it be nice if just one time we could come to their rescue , and give them back the FREEDOM they so cherish?????? and deserve ,?????


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