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Patrol saddles for safety

Group trained to provide support in county parks

Posted: August 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Nine-year-olds Eddie Chutan, left, and Kevin Guzman wave to the unit's horses near a lunch gathering of a North Hollywood church group.

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As the members of the North County Mounted Assistance Unit mounted their horses, they checked to make sure that they had enough water for themselves and that their horses were in good condition and ready to work.

As the volunteers paired up to patrol near the azure waters of Castaic Lake, they were spotted by a large group of children, who seemed excited to see horses at the beach and asked if they could pet their noses.

“I think that it’s good for the horses, because they can get some fresh air,” said Eddie Chutan, of North Hollywood.

The eight riders and their horses are part of the newly formed North County Mounted Assistance Unit, which works at the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area and the Castaic Lake to make sure everyone is staying safe.

Members of the group are trained to respond to emergencies on the trails at both parks, and the horses are great at reaching places that people can’t get to in vehicles, said group member Tamara Caudill. Certified group members are trained in CPR and first aid and work to identify trail issues and notify staff members, assist in searching for lost or disabled visitors or animals, provide park patrons with information and report suspicious activities to sheriff’s deputies.

“Our job isn’t to be a policeman,” Caudill said, adding that if the riders spot someone racing down sidewalks on skateboards, drinking out of open containers or breaking other park rules, they notify park officials.

The group does more than make sure people are safe, said Castaic Lake Superintendent Lori Bennett.

“The group is important to us because it’s an attraction; it’s unique,” Bennett said.

In order to make sure they can deal with issues they encounter on the trail, the riders receive 16 hours of training, along with 16 hours of training for their horses, said Wendy Hazlett, vice president of the group. The horses’ training includes desensitizing horses to flares, crossing water, crossing tarps, making sure the horses can perform and ensuring the horses get along with people, Hazlett said.

During the summer, the group mainly volunteers their time in the morning, before temperatures get too high. On a blazing morning last week, riders allowed their horses to splash in the lake and drink water before continuing their route.

Other mounted assistance units help patrol Frank G. Bonelli Park, Whittier Narrows and Marshall Canyon, but the North County Mounted Assistance Unit is the first in the north county area, said president Tiffany Mercer.

Darvin White, of Acton, may have retired from the Los Angeles Police Department Mounted Unit after 10 years, but he hasn’t forgotten what he learned at his job and now helps train the group.

“It just made sense with it being such a large equestrian unit that we came out to the community,” White said, adding that most of the members live in Acton or Agua Dulce.

The unit has about 12 members so far, but experienced riders are encouraged to join the unit by contacting Mercer at tmercer7@verizon.net or Hazlett at BCurly2Ranch@yahoo.com.

“We’re all going to be on the trails anyway, so we might as well patrol,” said member Robin Cutenese.

kjonas@the-signal.com

661-287-5517

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