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PHOTOS: First responders learn horse handling

By Ty O'Neil
A search and rescue team member waits for a horse to approach before attempting to put a halter on it.
A Search and Rescue team member waits for a horse to approach before attempting to put a halter on it.

With scenes of the California wildfires in the news and fires like that of the 2016 Little Valley Fire in Washoe Valley not long in memory, the recent First Responders Horse Handling & Safety Clinic at Maplewood Stables proved popular. First responders, citizens and even media trained how to safely work with livestock during a fire emergency at the free clinic.

In total, 50 clinic attendees from a variety of organizations including Washoe County Search and Rescue, Washoe County Animal services, 4H and FFA, along with concerned citizens, participated in the event.

Active first responders were given priority, but all attendees learned basic horse handling. Julie Winkel, owner and operator of Maplewood Stables, explained horse behavior, including the instinct to run and to be in a herd, their range of eyesight, how strong they are, and more. While many FFA and 4H members were familiar with the information already, those newer to working with horses took notes on proper horse etiquette.

Clinic participants gather in a field near several horses.
Clinic participants gather in a field to learn how to secure horses during an emergency.

After lecture first responders like Harry Stetzell, a Washoe County Search and Rescue past president, learned how to put halters on horses in an open field and move the horses as a group to another field. While the horses were not in the same distress they might be in a fire or flood, the presence of dozens of people in their once quiet pasture put the animals on full alert and gave first responders a good demonstration.

The first responders moved a herd of mothers with babies as well as a group of young horses around two years of age. Winkel oversaw the activities, allowing attendees to get hands-on experience with supervision.

The class was then moved inside where first responders tackled the challenging task of loading a horse into a trailer. Maplewood Stables used an unfamiliar trailer for this clinic to simulate loading a horse into a trailer they are unfamiliar with. This seemed to work as a great teaching element as some horses would walk in with little hesitation while others protested.

See more from the day’s activities in the gallery of photos below.

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