Horses Need Homes

Horses Need Homes

Provision in defense bill allows for adoption of retired mounts for "The Old Guard."

At the ripe age of 17, Grant is the oldest horse at Fort Myer. His massive brown frame shows a lifetime of military service, though age has begun to catch up with him. Yet from a distance, the only feature distinguishing him from the younger horses is the empty socket where his right eye used to be. Since the U.S. Army Caisson Platoon based out of Fort Myer is the only mounted unit in the military, Grant is also the oldest horse working for the Department of Defense.

RETIREMENT is not far off for Grant, with most horses at Fort Myer ending their working careers around the ages of 15 to 17. Until recently, retirement meant a random allocation to a military installation. While they would be cared for, these bases hardly provide an ideal environment for a horse. However, thanks to a provision added to a major defense bill by the House of Representatives, these retired animals are now eligible for adoption.

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th) helped move the provision through the House of Representatives. The congressman's press secretary, Austin Durrer explained, "The retired horses are kept on military facilities, basically just put out to pasture. Some of these facilities are not the greatest."

Private adoption, Congress hopes, will guarantee the necessary care and attention the horses require in their old age.

Far from trying to get rid of the horses once they are too old to work, the Army is genuinely concerned about the fate of these lifelong members of the military. In the event that a horse is in anyway mistreated in its new home, the Army reserves the right to revoke the adoption. "[The potential adopters] would need to cross a pretty high bar," Durrer said, "If the horse is not being cared for, the Army can take back the horse at any time."

THE IDEA for the provision originated back in 2000, on the recommendation of the Fort Myer head veterinarian. It was known as "Robbie's Law," and since then has been applicable only to retired military dogs. Extending the same privilege to horses, according to Moran, is "a provision long overdue."

The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment primarily uses the horses of the Caisson Platoon for full-honor funerals at Arlington Cemetery. Outside of the cemetery, the horses are also employed for the processions of major state funerals, such as the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan.

Horse owner Cindy Stinson says that only a select group of people would be interested in getting an old horse — those who are looking more for the companionship of a horse than a tough, fast ride. "Leisure riders would most likely be interested — those who want to just sit back and enjoy a ride. However this would be a small market. The market for competitive riders is bigger." She is quick to add, though, that she is a member of this small market, and interested in adopting.