RETAINED fire officers from Basingstoke and Overton stations have been learning a little animal magic to help deal with horses involved in accidents.

Twenty-six officers from North Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Animal Rescue Team perfected their horsemanship skills at a New Forest farm.

Sarah Weston, an equine trainer who is a recommended associate of intelligent horsemanship, guided the officers around a course of obstacles designed to test their ability to communicate with horses and to rapidly form a relationship with them.

She said: “The skills they require are similar to those needed at an accident.

“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.”

The obstacles set up during the training replicated uneven footing, narrow spaces and even flames that the animals might need to pass through to reach safety, should they be involved in an accident. Officers also learned how to ask the horses to stay still.

Sarah said: “Often, it is the companion of the horse who is trapped that are the most trouble, since they are inclined to run up and down and can make a stressful situation even more difficult.”

In the past, animal rescue team members often came from the farming community and were familiar with animal handling techniques, whereas now some have no experience of livestock at all.

Jim Green, animal rescue manager based at Lyndhurst, said: “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.

“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.”

Sarah said: “All horse owners recognise the value of having a dedicated animal rescue team and are only too happy to help out or to loan their horse to us for the day.”