The Army announced changes Wednesday to the way it handles the gray and black horses that carry servicemembers’ flag-draped caskets to their final resting places in Arlington National Cemetery after the death of the horses in the ceremonial unit revealed their poor living conditions.
The horses were part of the caisson platoon of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, known as the Old Guard, best known for guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the cemetery, located across the river from Washington.
Two Old Guard platoon horses, Mickey and Tony, had to be euthanized within days of each other in February 2022. Both died from colon impaction, a “dry, firm mass of feed, or foreign material, such as dirt or sand,” and in Tony’s case, he had to be euthanized because the sand and gravel impaction was too extensive to be surgically removed, according to the Army’s investigation.
After the death of two horses, who were in their 20s, veterinarians found sediment in the feces of other horses, probably because they had too little grass in their turnout field and consumed sand and gravel from on the ground while they ate the hay, the investigation found. .
To add to the problem, the hay is of such low quality that older horses like Tony don’t digest it easily and they have to nose around the ground looking for edible food. Army vets noticed the issue six months before the horses died but did not raise their concerns with platoon leaders. And the platoon had no way to force the hay supplier to provide higher quality hay because the Army contract did not specify the required amount of nutrients.
When the horses grazed outside, those small fields were also filled with construction debris and manure, and even if they were in good condition, would have been enough to support six or seven horses, the investigation found. found. At the time of the death of the horses, the farm was used for a herd of 64.
The commanding general of the Military District of Washington, Army Maj. gen. Allan Pepin, said the conditions were the result of mismanagement, not abuse of the soldier. Pepin said that the conditions reflect the lack of full understanding by the Army managers of the needs of the horses and the training required for the soldiers to care for them, and also the lack of resources.
“The platoon took it personally because nobody wanted this outcome,” Pepin told reporters on Wednesday. “Every time you go by and see the missions, we don’t see a horse that looks lame. We have never seen a horse that looked like it had a problem. What we saw were expert soldiers and horses that looked great. So it hides the underlying problem. “
In the months since then, the Army has been retiring older horses, some as old as 20 still part of the group that pulls more than 2,500-pound caissons, dating back to 1918. It also began in process of buying new horses, and do not buy gray horses, because they are more likely to develop skin cancer. The unit also leased additional pasture and received funding from Congress to improve the stables.
The Army is also working on getting lighter caissons to weigh down horses and developing new saddles and other tack to better prevent horse injuries, Pepin said.
Since the euthanizations, the Army has brought in a full-time herd manager and has been able to improve the horses’ diets, Pepin said, and regular veterinary bloodwork shows they are improving. However, two additional horses have had to be euthanized since, one due to a broken leg and one due to intestinal issues.
Last week. the Army decided that caisson operations would be suspended for 45 days to give the horses time to recover from any injuries.