By Lisa Pellegrene
Hayley Culverwell is the founder of a project called E-9 Search and Rescue, a project she founded, dedicated to training horses to track and / or trail for search and rescue services. The desire to develop this project and to further study this practice started with Hayley’s love for horses, knowing what they are capable of due to their keen sense of awareness and strong olfactory capabilities. Hayley had an experience as a young girl, which provided her with insight and the motivation to learn more about a horse’s ability to do search and rescue. Culverwell had an experience where her horse helped her find another one of her horses before an impending storm, when she couldn’t locate him herself. The night of the impending storm, Culverwell describes a situation where she had not brought her horses in earlier when her mom had asked her to do so. So she “rushed out to the pasture to bring them inside,” states Culverwell, “but one of my horses was missing when I went out to get them to bring them in for their safety.” Culverwell describes, in a bit of a panic, and not able to find her horse, she recalls “intuitively knowing to ask one of her other horses for assistance to find her missing horse.” Without much hesitation at all, her other horse understood and quickly led Hayley to her horse, able to then bring them all in quickly prior to the impending storm.”
According to Culverwell, the objective of the E-9 Project is to learn more about horses abilities so that the ones with an inclination toward doing so, can potentially aid in investigations by law enforcement, specifically, “to employ equines’ highly developed senses and cognitive thinking skills to assist law enforcement and military in search and rescue efforts of both people and animals.”
She adopted her miniature horse named Pilot in 2017, who she is training under her E-9 project, along with a couple of her other horses. Pointing out that she “doesn’t do any training with them that they do not want to do in this capacity or otherwise,” stating, “some horses have an inclination for wanting to do this. As an example, “My horse Nellie loves to work and be involved in active training – you can see her ego and confidence go through the roof in the best of ways, yet my horse Cherry isn’t fond of it.” Concluding, “I never make them do anything that they don’t want to do recreationally or otherwise.” Just like people, some have an inclination or interest in doing certain things, while others don’t. I look for horses that are ‘bombproof,’ social, and eager to work. Like people, some love to work and it really boosts their self-esteem. It’s no different with horses. This field isn’t for everyone. I would never put anyone – person or animal, in a position where they could possibly be traumatized, or even uncomfortable. This is teamwork.”
Concluding, “Today, law enforcement predominantly use horses as a mode of transportation and to provide personnel with a better aerial view for crowd control and search and rescue. Horses’ highly developed senses are overlooked because usually canines are employed for such tasks. Horses’ advanced cognition is also overlooked,” Culverwell concludes. Hayley Culverwell is continuing to work with her own horses so she can learn more about what she knows they are capable of. The objective is to employ equines’ highly developed senses and cognitive thinking skills to assist law enforcement and military in search and rescue efforts. To put it simply, equines’ senses will be utilized similar to K-9’s while their high level of cognition will potentially aid emergency personnel and bridge the gap between canine and human.
Hayley Culverwell describes her E-9 Search & Rescue as a project in its infancy. “I have been working closely with law enforcement. If this endeavor is a success, I intend on branching out to other law enforcement agencies and the military,” she states.
Some facts about horses as stated by Culverwell: “they can maneuver into areas where emergency vehicles cannot access; horses can transport injured people; it’s easier to catch a perpetrator on the run while on a horse than keep up with a K-9; horses have reasoning skills; horses have the largest eyes out of any land mammal; horses can see well in the dark; horses coats are in different colors and this can be beneficial to blending into their environment or standing out, depending on the objective; and quite simply horses bridge the gap between canine and human, as they are more cognitively developed than dogs in some capacities, and they have a sense of smell which humans don’t.”
The solutions this can provide, “This could give retired horses or horses with minor health issues a second chance and a better chance of more being rescued by being given a new career until their retirement.” Horses are aware, empathetic and they have keen senses which enable them to help both people and other animals; as canines serve, protect and aid in investigations as true heroes, horses have abilities these too, in ways unique to them. Culverwell states, “The E-9 search and rescue project is a budget-friendly endeavor for law enforcement to potentially consider implementing with their Mounted Patrol divisions.”
Concluding,“I am very eager to work with professionals in the field, whose knowledge extends beyond my own. The more perspectives and backgrounds, the better we can make this come to fruition mainstream. It’s also why I have welcomed constructive criticism. It will only help fill in the gaps to remedy any potential weak areas.” Concluding, “the biggest criticism I received was the sheer size of horses and their portability. Without that feedback, I would not have thought to employ a miniature horse, which is why I got my miniature Pilot, – who has quite frankly become a social media icon, with his big personality and small but mighty take on living life.”