Horses can carry supplies to stay out longer, offer the rider a higher viewing platform for searching, and provide a more rested rescue worker when a subject is found. Horseback units are also used to transport needed equipment such as medical equipment, rescue rigging equipment, litters, and radio equipment can be transported in a timely manner as needed. This cuts recovery time and reduces the number of rescuers needed.
As the horse component of an overall team effort, radio relays can be quickly stationed, and trails quickly checked and blocked if needed. Backpacks can be carried on an additional pack horse if needed. Six 40 LB backpacks can be carried on a large pack horse if required, leaving the foot searchers more mobile and not as prone to exhaustion.
While not comparable to dogs for their air-scent capability, horses are quite aware of their surroundings and will alert at anything out of the ordinary, thus warning their rider who may be looking in another direction.
Trained searchers are used successfully as clue finders due to the elevation of the horseback searchers eyes above the ground, usually 8 or 9 feet, and the mounted searcher is able to see further with fewer areas blocked by bushes, grass, etc. Once a possible clue has been located, riders are able to tether the horses a short distance away so that the scene remains undisturbed for preservation purposes.
Horseback units are self-sufficient and can pack in for days without returning for supplies. Each rider carries three days worth of supplies on their horse along with first aid equipment and outdoor survival gear. All search horses are trained and strengthened through endurance riding on mountain trails. Search and rescue horses are also trained not to react to unusual or loud noises like motor vehicles, dogs, people, aircraft etc.
Horses are not prone to hypothermia, and can make significant time in severe weather, high winds, and even snowy conditions, preventing the searcher from getting wet when crossing streams. For safety reasons, night riding is limited. Horses can be used at night, however only under known circumstances on safe terrain.