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TX: Horse patrols return to border security

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by hacon1, Mar 3, 2008.

  1. hacon1

    hacon1 Monkey+++



    Horse patrols return to border security

    By Jerry Seper
    March 3, 2008

    DEL RIO, Texas — With smugglers of humans and drugs pushing deeper into remote and often rugged areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Border Patrol has rolled out an old weapon and an old friend: horse patrols.

    Agent Joe Guajuardo is one of the Border Patrol's horse-patrol agents in the vast expanse along the Rio Grande here, and he said he "loves that the great outdoors is his office." So do his horse-patrol partners — Agents Gene Corp, Ryan Seifert, Andy Zavala, Carlos Briones, Peter Galan and Cruz McGuire — who constitute the busy Del Rio unit.

    Riding the dusty hills, gulches, river banks and ranges along the river between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., the agents said their horses — with whom each agent has developed a trusting relationship — can easily navigate the darkened terrain, and tend to know and remember the lay of the land better than the agents.

    The horses can move through areas along the river that all-terrain vehicles cannot and are able to do it quicker. With no engines, they also can travel quietly in the darkness, able to sneak up on illegal immigrants who might be camping.

    While on patrol, the agents are in constant contact with a Border Patrol dispatch unit, which alerts them to any number of strategically placed sensors that can be tripped by human or drug smugglers.

    "There are a number of sensors along the border, so if we get a certain number of 'hits,' we go check out that area," Agent Guajuardo said.

    A growing number of the smugglers are armed to protect their cargos, and assaults on agents have risen dramatically over the past two years.

    One of the horse patrol's major jobs is "sign cutting," a centuries-old technique for tracking people that involves searching for evidence or other clues that the smugglers might have left as they passed through the region.

    The agents say "cutting" involves the search for and the examination of "sign," which includes any kind of physical evidence — footprints, broken tree branches, overturned rocks, tire tracks, thread and clothing. Often, the agents drag old tires over the region's dirt trails and along the river's edge so they can better locate new footprints.

    Agent Guajuardo said it is much more difficult to track illegal border crossers and their often-faint footprints once they leave the trail and head into the bush.

    Some agents spend hours, even days, tracking signs in the field until an arrest or seizure can be made. Tracking footprints not only gives the agents information on the direction of those moving across the area, but can be an indicator of whether they are carrying a heavy load, such as drugs.

    The typical day for the Border Patrol horse patrols begins when the agents groom their animals, inspect them for injuries or bruises and then begin "tacking up," putting on the saddles, bridles and reins. The horses generally are transported to an operating area, where the agents ride in pairs or in groups.

    All of the agents selected for the horse patrols are volunteers who go through a selection process that involves face-to-face interviews with unit supervisors and a test of their riding skills. Once selected, training can last up to two months.

    American quarter horses are the preferred breed, and their color is important: Sorrels, chestnuts, bays, or horses whose colors provide camouflage at night top the list. The horses, known for their stamina, are purchased through brokers or from local ranches and feedlots.

    The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, says horses are cost effective, noting it costs less to board, feed and care for 10 horses a year than to maintain a single 4x4 off-road vehicle.

    In addition to being environmentally friendly, the department says horses last longer. A vehicle might last for two or three years but a horse can be in service for as long as 20 years.

    Mounted patrols for the now-defunct U.S. Immigration Service began as early as 1904 in an effort to prevent illegal crossings. Known then as "mounted guards," they operated out of El Paso, Texas, and — when funding allowed — patrolled as far west as California, looking mainly for illegal Chinese immigrants and "tequileros," the Mexican smugglers who brought liquor, mainly tequila, into the United States.

    The Border Patrol first utilized the horse in 1924 when the agency was created, though the first agents had to supply their own horses, provide their own tack and bring their own weapons. The agency did pay to feed the horses and gave the agents $25 a week.
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