The Old Guard, Caisson Horses and Caisson Horses for Adoption!






(Originally posted 12/19/2110)

On this Memorial Day, let’s celebrate the Caisson Horse!

CAISSON HORSES

A Caisson horse is one of the 6 horses that is hooked to the caisson which is the cart that holds the casket of a fallen and ranked soldier.  You’ve probably seen the image of a Caisson.

Caisson Platoon

THE OLD GUARD

This is something I didn’t know…  the Old Guard is responsible for the Military Caisson horses.

Actually, I never really knew anything about the Old Guard.  Do you?  Well, if you are as ignorant as I was about the Old Guard, I’ll fill you in…

The Old Guard

“The Old Guard” is a term used for The 3rd U.S. Infantry, which is the Army’s oldest active infantry regiment, predates the Constitution, tracing its origin to 1784. The unit was designated the official ceremonial troop of the Army shortly after World War II, by President Truman, and is stationed at Fort Myers, Virginia.  Here is a brief history of the Old Guard:

“Created in 1784 as the First American Regiment, The Old Guard was established after the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783, which stipulated that the United States would maintain a military force to protect land west of the Appalachian Mountains.


After the First American Regiment participated in the War of 1812, COL John Miller took command. Because he was ranked third most-senior officer in the Army, the unit designation became the 3rd U.S. Inf., in keeping with Miller’s status, said Kirk M. Heflin, the director of the 3rd U.S. Inf. (The Old Guard) Museum.


The 3rd Inf. played a vital role in the Mexican War in 1846, Heflin said. After taking Mexico City, the unit had the honor of marching at the head of its brigade as the American troops entered the Mexican capital.


“It was there that the Army commander, MG Zachary Taylor, turned to his staff as the 3rd Inf. passed and said, ‘Gentlemen, take off your hats to The Old Guard of the Army,’” said Heflin.
Today The Old Guard, which has proven its worth in battle, has a two-fold mission — to protect America’s capital and to pay final tribute to America’s heroes.”

Ceremonial duty

I wouldn’t say they get to do “fun” jobs for the Army, but they do perform the unusual tasks like Color Guard, Guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (very impressive…check out this link) and the maintenance and performance of the Caisson Horses.

What is interesting about the Old Guard maintaining the Caisson horses is that most of them come into this not as horsemen but as infantry.  They have to learn.  Besides horsemanship, these men train constantly.  They must learn how to ride, how to ride in the correct posture, how to sit in the saddle properly and how to ride in the procession.  Drilling and training is non-stop, both for the horses and the men.

The White Team

I think this must be good, to train all the time.  First off, this helps both horse and rider (or handler) become familiar with each other, but also trains the men quickly.  Since the men rotate out every 18 months, unions have to be created rapidly.  So, constant training helps here.  Also, both new men and new horses can’t possibly know how to do this task (Caisson procession) since it is unique to the Old Guard.  Everyone has to learn… and practice, practice, practice.

BACK TO THE CAISSON HORSES

The horse has always been important in the military.  First he pulled the carriages of important government officials, then he carried the mail and of course, he became the distinguished and brave Warhorse.  But, then the automobile came into play and the military horse became more of a symbol during ceremonial functions.  These symbolic military horses who walk in uniform during parades or draw a caisson (cart carrying a casket of a fallen soldier) are called Caisson Horses.

Somber

These horses are cared for by the Old Guard.

I stumbled upon some photos taken by LIFE MAGAZINE while they visited the Old Guard stables.  Fancy.  It was clear that these military men take as much pride in the stables as they do the coin bouncing on their tightly sheeted bunk.

The stable

The horses are groomed, bathed and bedded each day.  The tack is cleaned and shined.  They even ‘tumble’ their brass fittings.  I found this remarkable.  Inside the stable tack area, they have a huge barrel that is mounted sideways with a crank.  They put solution in there and tumble the brass so it comes out polished and shiny like those rocks at gem shows!

Comfy, large horse

Tack Room

I’ve added some candid shots of the guys with the horses.  To me, these photos speak to the pomp, warmth and grandeur of these well manicured and well maintained equines.  And, it also shows that these men have genuine affection for their charges.  Nice to know since they troops are rotated out every year and a half.  Kinda sad… but at least never boring.

Readying the Riderless Horse

Farriers

Their only duty is to care for these horses

Buds

CAISSON

What is a caisson or how did the name come into play?  Here is an explanation:

“The caissons were built in 1918, and used for 75mm cannons. They were originally equipped with ammunition chests, spare wheels, and tools used for the cannons. Today these have been removed and replaced with the flat deck on which the casket rests.”

Beautiful and very sad

THE RULES

The rules of the caisson procession through Arlington National Cemetery are strict.  Silence.  The only sounds heard are the hooves of the seven caisson horses.  Soldiers sit on only the three left-sided caisson horses because tradition had the right-sided horses carrying supplies.  They are paired into three teams – the lead team is in front, the swing team follows, and nearest the caisson is the wheel team.  There is an additional seventh caisson horse who not harnessed.  He is ridden alongside the front left carriage horse to guide him.  All the soldiers stand ramrod straight and stiff.  The horses are to walk very slowly, which can be difficult.

Ronald Regan’s funeral procession

COLOR OF CAISSON HORSES

Black or white (grey).  That’s it.  If you are born a bay, you better choose another profession.  Although, when I look at the above photo of President Regan’s funeral, they look like brown or bay horses.  Dunno.  Could be the lighting.

Sweet

Actually, in the beginning, the caisson horse had to be black – same with the caparisoned horse (riderless horse).  But, on June 9, 1981, ten Lipizzan horses were donated to the Caisson Platoon. The horses were accepted on behalf of the Army by the Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh, Jr., during a ceremony at Summerall Field, Fort Myer, Virginia. The Lipizzans are used to make up the “White Horse Team” for use in military funerals in Arlington National Cemetery.

Famed for their grace, intelligence and great strength, they were a lead element in the inaugural parade for President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush.

The bridle

WHERE DO THEY GO WHEN THEY RETIRE?

Ummm.  Well, that is up to us, really.  You see, the retired Caisson Horses are adopted out.  In fact, there are several who need adopting right now!  Here is a link to the website.

What I like about this adoption procedure is that EVERY HORSE HAS A VET MEMO attached to their photo page.  That means you can read what the military vet has to say about each horse.  I read through them and they were very candid.  Refreshing.  And, since there is protocol, ALL the horses have well maintained records and are cared for routinely.  Every horse is on a shot, worming and farrier rotation.  Also good to know.

Here is what the website says:

“The Caisson Horses of the Old Guard participate in all Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps Full Honor’s Funerals performed in Arlington National Cemetery. These magnificent animals serve with the men of the Caisson Platoon daily to ensure final honors are given in a dignified, professional, and respectful manner; and they love their job. Each Caisson horse offered for adoption has served on average for over a decade. During the course of their service they participate in thousands of funerals for our nations heroes. Because of the long and distinguished service of each and every horse in our stables, the Old Guard has introduced the Caisson Horse Adoption Program to ensure each horse is rewarded with a great home following its well earned retirement.”

Underneath, they are just horses… wonderful horses

THE CAISSON HORSES READY FOR ADOPTION RIGHT NOW

These horses are housed in Virginia, obviously.  But, I’m sure they know how to travel…  ;)   And, I kinda think it goes without saying that they must handle fairly well and have had extensive training…  I have no idea about their riding ability but you can ask the Old Guard… Here is their contact info:

Platoon Leader Platoon Sergeant Operations Sergeant
CW4 Anthony DiRenzo
Phone: 703-696-3568
Send an E-mail
SFC James Dean
Phone:
Send an E-mail
SSG Travis Nielsen
Phone:
Send an E-mail

I’ve listed the horses presently on the Adoption page and added their photos.  For more information, go to the website.

Click to learn more about adopting this Caisson!

Click to learn more about adopting this Caisson!

Cool, eh?

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11 comments have been posted...

  1. Cyndi Mallon

    Incredibly beautiful. I remember JFK’s funeral. It was hard to see because of the tears. Also remember Reagan’s. Same feelings. These young men care & work so hard to get it all right. Such hard work; they must be awfully proud and rightly so. Was at Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago. Thought my heart was going to burst.

  2. DIANE DAVIS

    Thank U! On instagram n found a FOXNEWS Article/Pic of six Caisson Soldiers re-enlisting at the Washington Monument. Since I had no clue bout Caisson, I googled it n found ur H&M blog. Wonderful info! I learned something new n enjoyed the pics. ?

  3. charlie

    Horses in the past and even in the present have been used as man’s car, truck, sport, a terrific show at parades, and many honorary events for governments and kingdoms. Let us neverforget their best friendship and love to mankind these horses have given and endured. They deserve the best in their last times on earth. cjl.

  4. John Hardman

    I served 1991-1995. Several of the pictures that you have have me in them! Very cool site.
    Thank you

  5. Krista

    Are you sure the information on the adoption horses is current? These are all the horses that were available a few years ago. I emailed and called, no one ever responded. I took a tour in 2011 and inquired again at that time, but the person doing the tour was very young, very new, and very uninformed on this issue…

  6. Erin

    I enjoyed your article. Thank you!
    My son has served with The Old Guard since 10-09. He started with the Honor Guard/Firing Team, served at the Tomb of the Unknowns and is now with the Caisson Platoon. He has had the honor of serving at the wreath laying at the Pentagon for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the Holocaust Liberators ceremony. We were able to visit him in 2011 and visit with the horses and soldiers of the Caisson Platoon. I hope to visit him again before his tour at Ft. Myer ends next summer.

  7. Nancy

    My son had the honor of serving in The Old Guard from 2001-2005. Being a part of the Caisson Platoon was an amazing opportunity. I wish more people realized how wonderful the tour is at the barn and what a beautiful, historical base Ft. Meyer is. I personally think it is a hidden treasure in the D.C. area.

  8. lisa

    We happened upon the stables at Fort Meyer today and had a wonderful private tour of the stables. We even got to pet some of the horses! Learned a lot about traditions and the caisson processions… never gave this any thought. Really very interesting and a highlight of our 2 day visit to the DC area. Something I nor my children will soon forget.

  9. Maggie

    I’ve been to Arlington and it is beautiful. Somber yes, but so peacful. Actually saw a funeral taking place and all you could hear were the horses’s hooves. I could sit there and reflect all day.

  10. michelle

    My stepdad was buried in Arlington with Caisson horses and the gun salute. Very beautiful.

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