Monday, September 15, 2014

Insider's Look: MMSAR - Mounted Training

This past weekend I loaded Harlan onto the trailer and headed up to Corinth for an overnight training with 6 other Maine Mounted Search and Rescue unit members.  MMSAR president Sharon kindly hosted us and our four legged partners, letting us set up little pens for the horses and opening her home to the humans.

We had a brief teleconference with the southern members who had their own training last month, and then we had a great GPS training with Bryan, the education director for the Maine Association for Search and Rescue.

After some on-foot GPS practice, we saddled up and split into two teams for mock searches. Sharon's husband John and his friend Alan were amiable victims and hiked off into the woods for us to find. I was with Nancy and her 28 year old appaloosa mare Lacey, and Dolly and her 21 year old paint mare Scarlett while Melissa and her 17 year old Tennessee walker mare Peekaboo acted as command post/observer. Harlan was the youngster of the group at "only" 12 years old, and a popular dude with all the ladies!

Tammy/Sugar, me/Harlan, Nancy/Lacey, Dolly/Scarlett, Shirley/Spice, Sharon/Zephyr, Melissa/Peekaboo
Our first scenario was a 42 YOM (year old male) who was LSA (last seen at) 0900 when he headed out to the woods on foot to scout deer stand locations. He was wearing camo pants, a grey sweatshirt, and possibly a hat; 6'4 and 180 lbs. PLS (point last seen) was on a particular trail. We were given a specific area to search, located it on our maps and GPS, and headed out.

Shirley on the other team administers first aid to John.
Dolly took the left as her search area, Nancy took the right, and I had the center and up in the trees. Pretty soon Nancy spotted the vic (victim) sprawled over a downed tree near a tree stand. We dismounted, tied the good ponies to trees, grabbed a first aid kit, and approached the vic. After a little bit of confusion, Dolly took the lead in medical with Nancy assisting and I communicated with command post (Melissa) by radio. Vic was unconscious with no obvious bleeding but suspected head/neck/spinal injury so Dolly established an airway and held his head still while we waited for the wardens/EMS to take over.

John was a very realistic victim with his leg bent at a weird angle until he started giggling as we approached.

The second scenario was a 46 YOM, 5'8 155 lbs, LSA 0900 when he went to the stream for fishing.  This time I found the vic, laying face down at the edge of the stream. He had significant bleeding on his head and leg (signified by red duct tape wrapped around said body parts) and was conscious but delirious. No spinal injury was suspected so we removed the log trapping his leg and repositioned his head so it was no longer laying downhill.

The mock searches were really interesting. Nancy is a very experienced searcher and Dolly has combat medical experience so it was very educational to ride along with them.  Harlan was very well-behaved except for a minor meltdown when Melissa and Peekaboo temporarily left the group (they're good buddies apparently).

After a debriefing and late dinner, I was very happy to conk out on a futon.

Day 2 started with breakfast and watching a video on mounted self-defense. Through the video we learned of a variety of tricks and maneuvers to use if someone was attempting to unseat us.

I was nervous from the get-go for hands-on training. I still haven't recovered mentally (or physically for that matter) from falling off in July. It didn't help that all the horses were antsy and fidgeting because of the cold weather and brisk wind.  Harlan was particularly sensitive that day; any leg pressure and he humped up and shot forward. One of the tricks from the video is to "wake up your horse" and get them ready for an attack -- no need to do that with Harlan Pepper!

John was once again a good-natured participant, this time as an assailant. First we practiced on the ground, using the horse as a barrier between us and John.

Then it was onto mounted self-defense training. The first exercise was pretty easy; loudly and assertively telling John to stop, back up, this horse bites!

The second exercise is called "the spin." If the assailant tries to grab on to you or the saddle, you spin the horse away so that the horse's hip pushes the assailant away. We first did it with John at a distance, then with him close up.  Harlan was very on-edge so John first gave him a cookie to bribe him, and then you can see how the maneuver works.

After Harlan doing that so well, I called it quits for most of the other exercises and just watched everyone else while Harlan practiced standing patiently. For those comfortable with it, John actually grabbed onto the rider or saddle and applied weight for the horses to try to spin off.  

The other major maneuver is called "going on a date." You trap the assailant's hand against the saddle or horse and ask the horse to move forward, picking up speed and then flinging the assailant's hand away. If the assailant hasn't fallen over already, this will make him lose his balance for sure.  For John's safety, it was practiced just at a walk.

I did participate in one more exercise, where the assailant takes your foot out of the stirrup and tries to pull you off the horse. You sink your butt into the saddle which then adds in the horse's weight for the assailant to pull. Harlan did really well for that too.

We then paired off and headed off onto a trail loop where John and his martial arts master Mike stationed themselves to "attack" us on the trail.  Riders could do whatever maneuver they wanted; Harlan was throwing a tantrum because he was separated from Peekaboo so I just did the verbal "STOP! BACK UP! HE BITES!" and the spin at a distance.

And then the training was over. We untacked, packed stuff away, ate lunch, and dispersed to our various homes. I left my trailer at Sharon and John's; John is a mechanic and is giving my trailer a look over as maintenance.  

Which meant Harlan went home with his girlfriend Peekaboo where he will stay until this coming weekend when I pick up the trailer. Like any kid at sleepaway camp, he has to have an adjustment period. Peekaboo decided that she needed to protect "her" herd (of Freya, a quarter horse mare, and Spud, a sassy pony) from him despite Harlan being in a separate pasture, which left Harlan feeling rejected and lost.  He broke through a gate when the other three pretended they were wild mustangs and were running around like crazy horses.

Here is his first Letter from Camp:

Dear Mom,

I was a good boy and stayed put last night, that fence is bitey! And it's COLD here!! I was shivering this morning so Aunt Melissa gave me a little grain. I almost stepped on her foot while she was bringing it out, she called me a big galloot but I just looked at her with my baby blues and she smiled and gave me a pat and put my grain down.

I did get excited when the girls ran up the hill but I settled down when I remembered that I had Spud for company, even though he's still giving me the stink eye some.  I have lots of grass to pick at in the barn yard so I'll try to be a good boy today.


I am tired but it was a really educational weekend and I'm proud of how well Harlan did even though I was incredibly nervous and wound up on the second day.  As an inexperienced unit member, it was so helpful to have practice as well as the opportunity to observe more experienced searchers in a low pressure situation.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Last Days of Summer

Last week I started classes in the vet tech program! Sort of. The first is physics (which is a pre-requisite for vet school if I choose that path) and it was excruciatingly boring.  The second is mammalian anatomy and physiology; I was very apprehensive about it.

Human anatomy in my first round of college was THE WORST class ever. It was entirely separate from human physiology, a class that I actually enjoyed. Anatomy was a whole different animal; the professor was proud of the fact that he had a high fail rate. It was a cadaver lab class which didn't bother me, I found it fascinating. But I failed the first lab quiz because I didn't put whether a marked structure was found on the left or right side of the body.

But mammalian anatomy and physiology looks like it will be much much more interesting. I mean, I get to doodle animals in my notebook!

I have another online class about addiction that I haven't started yet, but hopefully it will be interesting. 

My ribs are on the mend -- I really only notice that it hurts when I bend weirdly or breathe really deeply. So I went on a ride yesterday with a couple friends that was actually an 8 mile scavenger hunt. There is a local trail riding club that puts it on annually; they give you clues and send you off on a trail. There were 10 stations where we had to look for whatever the clue meant.

By about the 8th station my ribs were protesting the getting off and getting back on. But today they are fine, so they are healing!

It was a LOVELY day. Back at home, Harlan immediately rolled in the pasture.

Zin decided that looked pretty nice.

Tanner was just enjoying the sunshine.

Harlan made some puuuurdy faces.

Here's hoping we have many more lovely days this fall!