Training Caisson horses
Spc. Matthew Huggins and Staff Sgt. Erik Weis, both members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, train horses to pull the caisson.

JOINT BASE MYER, HENDERSON HALL, Va. (July 16, 2010) -- The caisson platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) has instituted an adoption program that protects its horses from being euthanized.

"We definitely don't want any caisson horses going to slaughter houses," Chief Warrant Officer Anthony DiRenzo, caisson platoon leader, said.

The adoption program is a spin off of the transfer program that has been in place since the caisson platoon was established.

Under the transfer program, horses were only allowed to be transferred to government or federal agencies. A change from the word "dog" to "animal" in Section 2583 under Title 10 of the U.S. Code enabled the caisson platoon to start a process that will allow private owners independent of the military to be given old, hurt or temperamental caisson horses.

The code states that the secretary of the Army may make a military animal available for adoption by a person or entity.

Recently the authority has been delegated to Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington commander.

The caisson horse holds an honored position. It is charged with the duty of escorting any servicemember killed in action and those in the rank of sergeants major or higher to their eternal resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.

Caisson horses work an average of eight funerals out of the 16 to 22 funerals at the cemetery per day, according to DiRenzo. These horses work a full-time schedule, however, even with every other week off, the strenuous job still tends to wear on the horse.

Before being adopted, the horse is seen by a medical examiner and deemed ready for adoption. The horse can also be placed in adoption if it has incurred a serious injury or if its temperament disrupts the caisson's process of carrying the dead to their resting place.

Once designated for adoption, the horse is placed on the caisson adoption website:

The site provides names, information and pictures of each horse ready to be adopted.

Here is how adoption works:

Interested adopters can view information on adoptable horses on the site. They have 60 days after the horse's information is posted to submit an application for adoption.

After the 60-day period, a board will be convened by The Old Guard to match each horse to an applicant. In some cases, more than one horse may go to a single applicant.

In other cases, the board may find that no applicants are appropriate for a given horse.

Each applicant will be notified of the board's decision and arrangements will be made to transfer the horse to its new home.

A new board will be identified Aug. 26.

Adoption applications require each applicant to list their personal information, reason for wanting to adopt, use for horse, horse housing facilities, equestrian medical care, training experience and references.

According to DiRenzo and Sgt. Erik Weis of The Old Guard, the caisson is also in the process of forming a uniform group of horses to conduct funeral services.

It is looking for horses at a standard size of 15.2 to 16.2 hands, Weis said. The Old Guard wants to get a uniform group of horses to interchange the animals between different positions in funeral processions.

To date, the caisson has not had any horses adopted. It has only transferred horses to different government and federal agencies.

(LaTrina Antoine writes for the Pentagram newspaper, serving Joint Base Myer and Henderson Hall, Va.)

Page last updated Thu April 16th, 2015 at 20:45