Mounted patrol handlers and horses not just for show

It's been more than 30 years since former Crow Wing County Sheriff Frank Ball sought out the public's help in organizing a mounted patrol for the county.

The Crow Wing County Sheriff Mounted Patrol runs in Marilyn Frenchs’ family, as her daughter and two granddaughters also are members of the Mounted Patrol. The three generations include Tylene Martineau (left), Marilyn French, Shara Martineau and Janessa Kaehler.Submitted
The Crow Wing County Sheriff Mounted Patrol runs in Marilyn Frenchs’ family, as her daughter and two granddaughters also are members of the Mounted Patrol. The three generations include Tylene Martineau (left), Marilyn French, Shara Martineau and Janessa Kaehler. Submitted

It's been more than 30 years since former Crow Wing County Sheriff Frank Ball sought out the public's help in organizing a mounted patrol for the county.

In 1985, 24 experienced men and women, along with their horses, answered that call and formed Crow Wing County's first mounted patrol. Now, 32 years later, there are around 20 volunteers and more are needed.

Residents in the Brainerd lakes area most likely have seen the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office Mounted Patrol in parades in Brainerd, Crosby and other towns in the county. The volunteers dress in the brown and tan sheriff uniforms, their horses dressed in bells and whistles.

However, the purpose of the mounted patrol-a volunteer group that falls under the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office-plays a much more important role in the county than just looking pretty in parades and at the Crow Wing County Fair. The mounted patrol plays an integral part of the sheriff's office Search and Rescue Team. The mounted patrol assists the sheriff's office in Crow Wing County, as well as other surrounding counties, in searching for missing children, adults or bodies. The mounted patrol also helps with crowd control and security at several events in the county.

Members of the mounted patrol range in age from 21 to 81 and all have a love for horses and for helping the community.


Marilyn French of Emily is a charter member of the mounted patrol. French, 81, joined when she was 50 years old and she plans to stick with the group as long as possible.

"I wanted to belong to a group who had high standards," French said. "I wanted to do good and to help the community. It's an honor to serve on the mounted patrol and we have three generations on the patrol. My daughter and two granddaughters also are part of the mounted patrol."

French said when the mounted patrol first organized, it's main purpose was for search and rescue missions. French said at that time there were not a lot of all-terrain vehicles to assist in searching for missing people. The ATVs are used today, but French said they cannot go deep into the woods like horses can.

French recalls two major search and rescue missions she was a part of. She helped in the search and rescue efforts for Erika Dalquist and Jacob Wetterling. Dalquist disappeared on Oct. 30, 2002, from downtown Brainerd and her body was found May 15, 2004. The body of Wetterling, who had been missing for 27 years after being abducted in St. Joseph, was just recovered by authorities in September.

"We searched for Dalquist a couple of times," French said. "I have searched for a lot of missing hunters and children over the years. When the state hospital was operating we searched for many of them who left the facility."

French said when the mounted patrol is searching for a missing person or body, a grid is formed and there is a lead horseman whom everyone follows. French said each volunteer searches a few feet apart, and they look in all directions and stop at times to listen, in case the missing person is calling out.

French said a horse's sense of smell is like no other animal's and is critical in search and rescue missions. French said a horse can smell all day long and will never lose the scent. Years ago during a search, French's horse and her partner's horse jumped and at first the handlers scolded the horses. However, the handlers soon learned the horses jumped because they found the body of a missing hunter.

"We have learned so much through the past 30 years," French said. "They know where everything is and can see everything in the woods, from a leaf dropping to a squirrel bouncing off a branch. They can see any movable object and stationary ones. .... They are very sensitive to their environment."


Jeff Melberg and Mariann Guentzef, both members of the mounted patrol and membership committee members, are calling out to the public to see if anyone is interested in becoming a member of the mounted patrol.

To be on the mounted patrol a person must be 21-years-old or older and own their own horse, tow vehicle and trailer. Each rider and horse must be tested annually on their horsemanship skills and their ability to meet the required standards. Once the initial training and testing are completed, the riders are sworn in as Crow Wing County Sheriff's Mounted Patrol deputies.

The sheriff's office provides members with uniforms.

The mounted patrol is funded by tax-deductible donations and fundraising events put on by volunteer members. Donations provide funds for equipment, tack and training expenses.

Those interested in becoming members can contact Guentzef at or 218-851-1416 or Melberg at or 218-838-1443 or the sheriff's office by calling 218-829-4749.

"There is great camaraderie in the mounted patrol," Melberg said. "If anyone wants to do something for their community, this is a great opportunity. We are all like-minded people and the bonuses are the trainings ... and people can advance their skills with their horse."

Melberg, the mounted patrol squad leader, joined Crow Wing County's Mounted Patrol in 2012, after serving five years on the Cass County Sheriff's Office Mounted Patrol. Melberg also rode with mounted patrols for Hubbard and Benton counties.

"I grew up on a small horse ranch with my aunt and uncle in Champlin," Melberg said. "I lived there on the farm with them in the summers. I've always had a love for horses. I had no fear of them. My parents didn't like horses.


"They are calming, good therapy. Horses give you something of purpose. I don't drink, do drugs or smoke, just have my horses. If more kids got into horses, the community would be a better place."

Guentzef joined mounted patrol in 2009, after she retired. She was a paramedic and a deputy coroner for 13 years.

"Jobs leave a lasting impression and when I retired I wanted to get my mind on something else," Guentzef said. "I find horses to be very calming, satisfying and good therapy.

"I took many lessons, went through all the disciplines and found I liked Western the best. I wanted to do something for the community."

When not doing search and rescue missions, the mounted patrol participates in public service activities, which includes Member Appreciation Day at Crow Wing Power and parades and the county fair in Crow Wing and Aitkin counties. The volunteer group also hosts fundraisers to help with its costs.

The largest fundraising event is a fun show in August, which is open to the public. Riders from age 5 and older compete to win ribbons with a prize given to the overall winner in each age bracket. The group always accepts tax-deductible donations.

Donations assist the mounted patrol in keeping their annual training up to date. The mounted patrol is hosting a clinic fundraiser April 21-23 at the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds and will also conduct a mounted shooting clinic sometime this year. In June, the mounted patrol is hosting a training on riots at the fairgrounds with instructor Mary Hamilton.

Terry Nowacki, a nationally experienced clinician and professional horse trainer, has done many training sessions for the county. Melberg said volunteers with any mounted patrol in any county are welcome to join the trainings offered in Crow Wing County. Melberg said training is important to keep the horse and the handler up to date with search and rescue skills, such as scent, sign language and communication skills.


Melberg said he would like to see new members come on board before the April annual training. He said then the new members would be able to participate in the events and search and rescue missions this year. He said if they are not trained by April, they will have to wait to participate in the events the following year.

Crow Wing County Sheriff Todd Dahl said he can't say enough about the mounted patrol.

"They are a great group of people who are highly trained and have a great pride in what they do," Dahl said. "They are honest, caring people who want to make the county better.

"I've had the pleasure of riding with them and I can honestly say in my 30-year career this is one of the top five things I have ever done with the sheriff's office."

Dahl said he has always set a high standard for the sheriff's office, and this standard applies to the mounted patrol and "they have exceeded the standards." Dahl said the volunteers need to know how to handle their horses and to keep them highly trained. Dahl said the mounted patrol is a valuable team with the sheriff's office and he appreciates all the volunteers time and dedication to the group.

What To Read Next
Get Local