Arlington Won't Have Horses in Funerals for a While

Program was suspended after deaths of two horses, investigation
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 12, 2024 4:20 PM CDT
Arlington Won't Have Horses in Funerals for a While
An Army caisson team conveys the casket of Lt. Col. Richard Smith during his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., in March 2019.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

The return of horse-drawn caissons at Arlington National Cemetery is being delayed for months, at least, the Army said Friday, as it struggles to improve the care of the horses after two died in 2022 as a result of poor feed and living conditions. Nearly a year after the Army suspended the use of the gray and black horses for funerals, officials said they are making progress buying new horses, obtaining better equipment, and improving the training, facilities and turnout areas. But Maj. Gen. Trevor Bredenkamp, commander of the Military District of Washington, said it's been far more time consuming and difficult than initially expected to get the program going again, the AP reports.

And it will take an extended period of time to get enough horses to meet the funeral needs. "We have every intention to resume operations. I can't give you a week or month or estimate," Bredenkamp said in a call with reporters. The horses are part of the caisson platoon of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, which is best known for guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the cemetery, located across the river from Washington. Two of the Old Guard platoon horses, Mickey and Tony, had to be euthanized within days of each other in February 2022. Both died of colon impaction.

The Army found the horses had little grass in their turnout fields and consumed sand and gravel from the ground while eating the low-quality hay, per the AP. The fields were littered with construction debris and manure and were only large enough to support six or seven horses, nowhere near the 64 that were using the fields when Mickey and Tony died, an Army investigation found. Officials blamed the conditions on mismanagement, lack of resources, and a poor understanding of the horses' needs. They also said soldiers needed better training on how to care for them. A cemetery superintendent said there are nearly 30 funerals a day, Monday through Friday, at Arlington, and of those, six to eight qualify for escort honors. The Army is using a funeral home hearse or another vehicle in place of the caisson.

(More Arlington National Cemetery stories.)

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