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Arlington Cemetery halts use of horses for 45 days over health concerns

Burial in horse-drawn caissons with coffins at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia

FILE: Buried with horse-drawn caisson coffin at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.

Vision of America/Universal Image Group via Getty Images

The horses that lead the caissons carry the caskets of fallen service members Arlington National Cemetery Taking a break of 45 days out of concern for their health.

The army said in a statement that suspending the horses in the caisson platoon meant “prioritizing the health of the herd”. The break comes after four of the unit’s horses died in the past two years. The living conditions of horses have undergone recent trials.

“We look forward to the return of the U.S. Army’s caisson horses to their sacred duty of carrying our nation’s heroes to their final resting place,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence Kelly said in a statement. The suspension, which began on May 1, is a “condition-based” break and will not affect military funerals. The Army is looking at temporary solutions such as contracted services to provide funeral escorts while working horses take a break.

During the break, horses with leg, joint or muscle problems will have a “more deliberate and adequate rest and rehabilitation cycle,” according to a spokesman for the Army’s Military District of Washington. The command will take time to procure additional young horses and modernize the necessary equipment to minimize potential future injuries.

“Unsatisfactory conditions” for horses maintained by infantry regiments.

Last year, an Army inspection first reviewed by CNN found that more than 60 horses operated by the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, also known as “The Old Guard,” were living in “unsatisfactory conditions” at Fort Myer’s caisson Barnes and Fort Belvoir caissons. Pasture facility.

The inspection requested by the unit’s commander was prompted by the deaths of two horses within 96 hours of each other in February 2022. Both horses died as a result of severe gravel and sand exposure to their digestive tracts. According to CNN, Tony, one of the horses that died, had 44 pounds of gravel and sand in his system.

Subsequent tests included in the inspection showed that 80% of all horses handled at the facility had high or moderate levels of sediment in their systems. Sediment can be found in their digestive tracts if horses eat hay off the ground instead of eating mats.

The Army’s Military District of Washington and the 3rd US Infantry Regiment made several changes to horse care, as a result of recommendations after the inspection, such as purchasing more feeding mats, hay quality testing kits and more nutritionally-balanced feed. . The command has hired several equestrian experts to help manage the health of the herd.

According to an Army official, two other horse deaths at the unit in the past year were unrelated to the lifestyle described in the inspection. One horse died from injuries while resting, possibly after being kicked in the chest by another horse, and another horse was euthanized due to intestinal problems.

Last year’s inspection also noted the inadequacy of horse accommodation.

The horses of “The Old Guard” rotate between Fort Myer and Fort Belvoir. The recommended acreage for healthy horses is one to two acres per horse, however, Belvoir’s pasture facility consisted of only six acres—more than 60 horses at “The Old Guard.”

To give the horses more space, the Army Military District of Washington announced a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management last year to house some horses at the Meadowood Special Recreation Management Area in Lorton, Virginia, about 20 miles outside of Washington, DC. The Army plans to house 12 horses and use about 14 acres for grazing by December 2027 on a rotating basis.

Congress included an amendment by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, to last year’s defense legislation that would have required the military to submit a briefing to Congress on horse care among “The Old Guard.” An Army official confirmed that the Army completed that briefing earlier this year.

“Old Guard” horses

In hundreds of funerals a year at Arlington National Cemetery, six horses pull a flag-draped casket over a black artillery caisson. The caissons, built in 1918, originally carried ammunition chests and equipment for cannons but now have a flat deck for caskets to rest on.

The Army will provide updates to the public on the health of the horses and interim solutions to their absence on the Arlington National Cemetery website.

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Eleanor Watson

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