First Responders Horse Handling & Safety Clinic Highlights Education

Julie Winkel, right, leads a group of First Responders to the pasture for training.

Julie Winkel, right, leads a group of First Responders to the pasture for training.

Myths were rewritten during Maplewood Stables’ fourth First Responders Horse Handling & Safety Clinic, held Tuesday, April 17 at Maplewood Stables in Reno, Nevada. 

The clinic, which was led by Maplewood’s owner and CEO Julie Winkel, focused on educating First Responders and other good Samaritans who wanted to learn about horses and how to safely handle them in emergency situations.

One important takeaway Winkel observed from this clinic was dispelling the belief that because horses are large animals that they’re dangerous. When the group of about 25 participants gathered for introductions, Winkel asked each person to describe his or her experience with horses and their thoughts on working with them.

"What I discovered was surprising,” she said. “People who don't know a lot about horses are under the assumption that horses are big, mean animals because they're large, and that's the farthest thing from the truth. Horses are actually flight animals; they're very much herd animals, and they look for leadership. So, if the person handling the horse can act like a leader instead of someone who’s afraid, that goes a long way."

First Responders learn how to catch and halter horses in a field.

First Responders learn how to catch and halter horses in a field.

After the group listened and watched Winkel’s presentation on horse behavior and psychology, which was held in Maplewood’s indoor arena with a horse at her side, they practiced haltering and leading horses from stalls. They then took a literal field trip to a pasture on the property where Winkel held a team “competition.”

She organized participants into five groups of four or five members. Each group had 10 minutes to catch and halter a small group of school horses turned out in a 10-acre field. Because roughly two-thirds of the participants had attended previous clinics at Maplewood, Winkel wanted to further challenge their horse handling skills, and this was a test of communication and trust with the horses.

“We went out to the field, and the first two teams couldn’t catch the horses in that 10-minute window,” she said. “The third team took exactly 10 minutes. The last team, which I led, caught them in seven minutes. But, much of our success was a function of the participants watching and observing the groups that went before us. 

“What was fascinating to me, is that as each team went out and worked, the rest stood back and were experts pointing out who was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she continued. “Even in that short amount of time, they learned to observe the horses’ body language and talked about the horses’ vision and where to position yourself in relation to them for the best outcome. It was awesome! The team that won really played on seeing what some of the other teams did wrong as well as right, and those that went earlier had the opportunity to study the successful teams to see what they could improve upon.”

Clinic attendees observe the proper loading of a horse into a trailer.

Clinic attendees observe the proper loading of a horse into a trailer.

Winkel noted that taking the participants out to the field provided more of a real-life scenario, where First Responders might find horses turned out and needing to be rescued and evacuated in the face of a fire or flood. 

“Where we had practiced the past three times with horses in stalls and loading into trailers, I wanted to give them an additional viewpoint,” she said. “Besides, it was a beautiful day, and I thought, ‘Let’s head out to the field and see how good they are.’ And, it was funny, because our typically placid school horses gave them a challenge! One guy said at the end of the clinic, ‘These were domesticated horses. I’d like to practice on a real-case scenario, and a lot of horses are wilder than these.’ I laughed, because ours were pretty wild!” 

Winkel and her Maplewood staff host two First Responders Horse Handling & Safety Clinics each year, with the next clinic scheduled for November 25.

“For each clinic, we enrich the curriculum so that those who join us regularly can expand upon their skills with handling the horses," said Winkel. "With the Washoe Valley and Pleasant Valley areas home to so many stables, barns and horses, we want to help educate those who might help us in the future and create an opportunity for First Responders to gain relevant first-hand experience. Our doors are open to those who would like to visit and practice on their own, and we’ve had several First Responders come out to learn more about horses."  

During this clinic, a group of volunteers from the Washoe County Search and Rescue Team attended.

"I've done fire evacuations but not with large animals," said Lee Rhodes. "That's one of the reasons we all came to this, in order to be able to help, whatever that need may be."

Hundreds of First Responders have now gone through the training at Maplewood, and Winkel’s next step is to reach out to the area's horse owners.

“We’re in the process of certifying people who have trailers and want to volunteer in these emergencies to help evacuate," Winkel said. "We’re also in the process of educating barn owners so they understand their responsibilities. They need to make sure their horses load into a trailer, that there are halters in front of their stalls or corrals at all times and they have identification.”

For more information about Maplewood Stables and the First Responders Clinics, please contact us: or (775) 849-1849.

Tricia BookerComment