(Originally posted 12/19/2110)
On this Memorial Day, let’s celebrate the Caisson Horse!
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.
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” 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.”
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
Send an E-mail
|SFC James Dean
Send an E-mail
|SSG Travis Nielsen
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.
HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!