Horseback riders in Western North Carolina are joining forces with citizens in surrounding states to combine their riding skills with life saving techniques. A volunteer organization known as the County Mounties trains horseback riders to aid law enforcement agencies in an array of circumstances.
The County Mounties was founded in 2007 by Lawrence Beal of Hayseville, N.C. The mounties is a non-profit organization that operates out of Hayesville but reaches beyond the area and into many other states and jurisdictions. In the last six months, the group has been called out six times to assist the FBI and local law enforcement organizations in Florida and Concord, N.C. to help with search and rescue operations.
“I felt like there was a need for a search and rescue teams in the area and surrounding areas,” said Beal. “It helps with public relations and it gives the people something helpful to do with their horses.”
County Mounties train, serve and ride out of the Hayesville training arena. Participation is voluntary and open to all riders willing to put in the time to train and be available for volunteer security, search and rescue and crowd control work. A mandatory 60 hours of training is required of the horse and rider for Level One Certification. A fundamentals test is also mandatory before participating in any County Mounties event. Modest fees are collected on an annual basis to cover the horse and rider’s training hours, insurance, training materials and membership. Several Macon County residents are members of the County Mounties brigade and participate in various missions throughout the year.
The County Mounties will be on hand in Macon County on April 19 and 20 around Standing Indian and Rainbow Springs road to assist in the Smoky Mountain Relay, a race that begins near Brevard and ends in Bryson City. The mounties will patrol the area for dangers that could affect the runners such as bears. This will be the third year that the organization has been used for the foot race.
Though they are often called upon during high profile events for crowd control, in cases of emergency and missing people reports, the mounties may be called out at all times of the day or night to perform search and rescue operations.
The volunteer organization uses police training techniques utilized by law enforcement agencies that are equipped with officers mounted on horseback. Members also receive training on how to work with different law enforcement agencies throughout the state, from local to state levels. Most of the focus during the training is directed towards the horse, in which it is exposed to various sounds and movements that would be similar to real life situations like smoke, sirens and other loud noises. Once the horse has progressed through the training with the intended results, the rider will then be added to the equation.
According to Beal, the mounties hope to utilize a youth group in the future to expand interest in the organization. Currently, a rider must be 18 years of age to be a mounty, but with the new goal of incorporating younger riders, the hope is that the next generation can receive preliminary training and once they become adults, they will be ready to take on the full role of mounty.
The current membership includes non-riders as well. These people may assist a canine group that tracks people who may be lost or a utility group that rides four-wheelers and motorbikes. Some members are also certified to use chain-saws and other power tools.
The County Mounties are so renown for their effectiveness that they also participate in such events as Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Back in early February six mounties participated in pre-Mardi Gras training. Riders from Opelika, Alabama; Mineral Bluff, Georgia; Phenix City, Alabama; Harmony, Pennsylvania; Blue Ridge, Georgia and Hayesville, N.C. were in attendance. Riders were required to undergo eight to 10 hours of training in order to de-sensitize their horses. When the trainers and the police department deemed the group worthy upon completion, they were then deputized.
“At Mardi Gras, riders have to be ready for anything that comes their way,” said Beal. “We send our County Mounties to participate in extra training to keep them safe and experience resources we do not have here like helicopters, street cleaning machines, many large marching bands, fire trucks and motorcycles.”
Franklin resident, Linda Blackburn, has been a part of the mounties for four years and was present for the Mardi Gras celebration. Training horses is a large part of her life and she sees the mounty training as a way to make the animals even better at how they behave.
"It's fun and its a win-win," says Blackburn. "You and your horse learn together and you're basically partners. We train these horses to ignore loud noises so we can focus on crowd control. Our main goal is to keep the public safe."