LOCAL fire officers have been asking questions of horses in a bid to improve their safe handling.

Twenty six retained fire officers from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Animal Rescue Team in this area have been perfecting their horsemanship skills at a remote farm in the New Forest.

Equine trainer Sarah Weston, a Recommended Associate of Intelligent Horsemanship, has been guiding the officers, mostly from Overton and Basingstoke, around a course of obstacles designed to test their ability to c o m m u n i c at e with horses and to rapidly form a relationship with them.

“The skills they require are similar to those needed at an accident,”

said the trainer.

“They have to be calm and reassuring so that the horse feels that he is in safe hands.

“In this way they form a bond so that the horse is prepared to follow them anywhere and out of danger.”

It makes a change for the fire officers to meet a horse when it is not the worst day of its life, nevertheless, the horses used for the course may never have met some of the novel obstacles they will be asked to negotiate on the day.

These aim to replicate the uneven footing, narrow spaces and even flames that they might need to pass through to reach safety.

They also need to be able to ask a horse to stay still.

Sarah added: “Often it is the companions of the horse that is trapped that are the most trouble.

“This is because they are inclined to run up and down and can make a stressful situation even more difficult.”

In the old days, Animal Rescue Team members often came from the farming community and were familiar with animal handling techniques.

Nowadays some have no experience of livestock at all and particularly with the unpredictable nature of horses, which are a prey animal.

“The purpose of the training is to help them to understand more about the psychological and behavioural aspects of horse handling which will assist them in emergency scenarios,”

said Jim Green, Animal Rescue Manager based at Lyndhurst, “Importantly it also gives them a better understanding of how their behaviour may affect the horse’s anxiety level and teaches them how to minimise stress during what is already a frightening experience for horse and owner.”