Search and Rescue Team to Recruit Detection Horses Skip to content

Search and Rescue Team to Recruit Detection Horses

A group of search and rescue team members in Borgarnes, west Iceland, have trained search horses for more than one year. The group is now ready and waiting for a call-out. Their future goal is to also train detection horses.

Riding in Iceland. Photo by Páll Kjartansson.

Although horses have been used in Iceland for ages for looking for and herding sheep they have not been used to search for missing people. However, horses have many qualities that can come in handy in search and rescue, Fréttabladid reports.

“Horses travel unbelievably easily and fast over rough terrain. The rider has a better view than a walking search and rescuer and a better opportunity to look around,” explained Halla Kjartansdóttir, the group’s representative.

Additionally, the horse has another set of sense organs that a perceptive rider can take advantage of, Kjartansdóttir said.

“We believe search horses are a good addition to other search opportunities that are currently at hand,” Kjartansdóttir added. “People are searching in all sorts of vehicles and some of them aren’t suitable for all conditions.”

Kjartansdóttir and her team are also planning to train detection horses, which could search for missing people in the same way detection dogs do. Horses have a very good sense of smell, she said, and detection horses are sometimes used in the US.

Not all horses are suitable for search and rescue, Kjartansdóttir explained. They have to be tame, trusty, have a sure footing, be strong and think independently, which applies to many horses that are used for sheep herding.

The rider must also be a trained search and rescuer, although in some occasions an untrained local who knows the search area can be used as well.

The downside to using horses as opposed to motorized vehicles is that the call-out time might be longer. However, Kjartansdóttir said horses could be recruited after the initial search has taken place, for example on the second day when reinforcement is required.

Horses are used for search and rescue in many countries around the world and Kjartansdóttir said it is important to learn from their experience.

She represents a group preparing to establish other horse search and rescue crews in Iceland, including in south Iceland and in Skagafjördur in the north. It is a good way to combine an interest in horsemanship, search and rescue and outdoor recreation, she said.

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