Tasmanian Mounted Search and Rescue on the job

Driving rain, slick mud, wet snow and treacherous terrain; the clinking of bridles and bits, the creaking of leather saddles and the occasional whinny or snort heralds the arrival of the Tasmanian Mounted Search and Rescue. 

The club is a little-known part of the emergency search and rescue response in Tasmania, and has been for four decades.

It works with Tasmania Police and the State Emergency Service in searches for people missing or injured in the bush. 

“We assist the police and the SES on their searches and looking for lost people and anything they need us to do really … It can be bushland it can be open plain it can be any area really,” Tasmanian Mounted Search and Rescue vice president Aaron Gee said. 

Astride their horses, the 14 members of the club walk in organised formations; searching for people or missing items left behind. 

“Any clues, any clues whatsoever,” Tasmanian Mounted Search and Rescue president Philip Davey said. 

“When we train we might drop a few things out, whoever’s doing the training exercise, and then we’ll go out and weve got to keep a good eye out.

“We might pick up an item of clothing that someone has dropped or it might be just a minty that someone’s dropped out of their pocket.”

The mounted search and rescue brings its own unique skills and advantages to a search.

“We can travel pretty fast and we also are a lot higher so our visibility is generally pretty good … we’re generally pretty quiet and we can travel pretty fast and long distances when we’re searching,” Mr Gee said. 

Entirely volunteer, these keen horse enthusiasts continue a tradition of community service that was started back in 1973. 

“It started with a boy getting lost many years ago,” Mr Gee said.

Mr Gee’s father was one of a community that founded the club. 

“They organised a search with a policeman back there at the time and it all start from there,” he said. 

The group formed into the Gee Park Mounted Search and Rescue Squad and held monthly meetings at the Prospect police station. 

The club has changed over its 44 years, becoming the Northern Tasmanian Mounted Search and Rescue and then finally the Tasmanian Mounted Search and Rescue it is today. 

Much like other search and rescue teams, the mounted search and rescuers need more skills under their belt than just horsemanship. 

They all need to be proficient in map-reading, radio skills, first aid, GPS reading, bush survival skills and rescue and recovery. 

Each member of the team must be able to maintain their own safety and that of their horses while out searching in what is often inclement weather. 

“One that stands out just recently was [a search] down at Bakers Beach, it rained all day and it was nearly horizontal rain – it was that windy and rainy,” Mr Davey said. 

“But anyway it’s what we do, it’s what we train for.”

Mr Gee adds, “We get called out to some pretty bad conditions some times in the snow, rain and wind. 

“The ones up in the mountains have been really cold.”

Vital to surviving and offering their help in these situations is adequate training. 

The club gets together for formal training three times a year and participates in co-ordinated training exercises with Tasmania Police and Search and rescue once a year. 

Training takes place in as life-like a situation as possible, and has drawn the horses and their riders out to remote places, sometimes in the snow. 

“Dealing with the weather, you do get very cold on a horse so obviously we've got to wear the appropriate wet-weather gear,” Mr Gee said. 

But the riders have more than just themselves to worry about, they must also consider the wellbeing of their horses. 

“We’ve just got to be a bit careful that obviously we dont want to hurt them,” Mr Gee said. 

“We can take them to some pretty rough conditions but we don't want to put them in a position where they're going to get hurt, so they come first.”

The club also has a mobile base, that co-ordinates the movements of the crew and maintains radio contact. Mr Davey said this role is crucial to the team’s operations. 

Each of those volunteering their time, horses and equipment for the search and rescue does so for their own reasons, but there are some common themes among them if you ask them why.

“We love riding the horses and also to help the community, help the family members if people have got lost or somethings happened to them, it's really rewarding to help find someone,” Mr Gee said.

Club member Sheryn Claridge said, “Just utilising my abilities and skills and passion for the horses to help others and make a difference because if I was in that situation I like to think people could help me back.”

Sometimes with only a few meagre hours to prepare, the mounted search and rescue hit the search area, working with police and SES to provide what help they can. 

“Most people are pretty appreciative of helping their family,” Mr Gee said.