omssu

Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program

As you may remember from a previous post, Splash and I joined the Ontario Mounted Special Services Unit (OMSSU). From July 14-16 , we participated in the first clinic of its kind in Ontario: the Civilian Service Horse Sensory Program.  While this clinic was open to anyone, it was mandatory training for members of the OMSSU and we had equitation and obstacle/sensory testing that we needed to pass in order to become full members of the unit.

Many topics were covered throughout the weekend.  Friday evening, Wendy Swackhammer of Wellington County Livestock Emergency Response gave us a crash course into what goes into livestock rescue, from seeing all of the various tools used, to learning different techniques to putting strapping on a horse to help it move, to how to contain a loose horse safely.

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Saturday and Sunday were both mounted portions.  First thing Saturday morning, we had formation riding instruction with Toronto Mounted Police officers Constable Houston and Constable McCarthy. Luckily Splash remembered her drill riding training however, I did initially find it difficult to learn the new commands as police drill training had different names for things than we did on the Canadian Cowgirls but once I understood what was being asked and I could translate back into what I knew, we were good to go! An excellent way to start the day!

omssu
Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Next was an equitation session with retired RCMP Jerry Mayo, which we had both days. While I had initially expected these sessions to be basically a demonstration of what he wanted us to do, then to us go practice it and to have him assist if we were having difficulty, they ran more like a question and answer period.  While there was not as much riding and practicing in these sessions as I had hoped for, it was interesting to watch people work through specific issues they were having and to watch their progression as they utilized the instruction Jerry was giving them.

After this, Captain Lisa Rakes of the Kentucky Horse Park Mounted Police walked us through self defense on horseback, particularly useful to me as I often ride alone. We learned what to do to keep us as safe as possible and what to do if someone tries to attack.  One thing I found interesting about this was if someone grabs your leg to push you off your horse, stay flexible and don’t stiffen up. The more you stiffen and try to brace yourself, the less balance you have and are able to be pushed off easier.

After lunch we had an obstacle course ride/test. While the pattern was relatively simple, the end goal was to test how calm and maneuverable your horse is. Last session of the day was fire prevention. One of the exercises on Friday as part of the large animal rescue session was to walk around the barn at the REACH Centre and pick out the good, the bad, and the ugly (an excellent practice to do in your own barn!)  While the REACH Centre is fairly new, it was shocking to all of us that although they have a state of the art sprinkler system installed, there wasn’t a fire extinguisher to be seen! In the light of recent barn fires in the area, there were many good takeaways from this session and the one on Sunday, including having a fire extinguisher within arm’s reach of every exit and to have a plan established and practised should there ever be an emergency.

A dinner reception was held Saturday evening to swear all of the new OMSSU members in. The dinner was delicious and catered by a member of our own team (thanks Dee!). A professional chef on the team is a great asset as we know we will never starve!

omssu
Photo credit to Happy Hoof Photography

Sunday was one of my favourite days as we participated in a search and rescue training session and an advanced obstacle/sensory class.  Search and rescue was one of my main reasons for wanting to join the OMSSU and we will be partaking in Canadian and National certification in the spring.  For this particular session, we were given an in-class debriefing on the different type of search techniques that can be implemented and what sort of things to consider when participating in a search, then we set out to do a mock run. It was amazing how much ground we could cover in such a short period of time and we did find our missing target! Horses can be such an asset to searches as they can cover ground faster and can go many places that people, vehicles, or atvs can go!

The last sensory session of the day proved to be interesting as Splash decided that she didn’t want to have any part of anything, even though she had done almost all of the obstacles previously.  While it can be quite frustrating, we just took it as another training opportunity. Horses can have off days too and it is good to know what tools and tactics you have and are useful if this ever happens again. Once she decided that life wasn’t so bad, she happily tried her best at the various obstacles in the ring.  She really surprised me when she quickly understood what was being asked of her when she was presented with the riot cart (designed to simulate having to push through a crowd), considering her initial mood and that she had never seen one of these before. With only a little bit of coaxing, she quickly figured out that all she had to do was push it with her chest and the cart moved.

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This weekend was not only fantastic for training but to get to work more together with the team as a whole (as we are spread out all over the province) and to see what we need to work on before Kentucky.

Thank you to all of the incredible instructors and to Cindy Fuerth for having this vision. I’m super excited to see where this takes us and lots of things are already in the works.

If you are interested in participating in this one of a kind workshop next year, the dates have already been set for June 22-24, 2018 at the REACH Centre in Clinton, Ontario.

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