Half section horse retires after 21 years
August 26, 2010
FORT SILL, Okla.--Retiring from a career in the Army is pretty common at Fort Sill, but on Aug. 17 things were a little different.
General Dinges retired after 21 years of service with the Fort Sill Field Artillery Half Section. Dinges, 28, is a quarter horse one of a dozen horses which are used by the ceremonial unit.
But it won't be out to pasture for Dinges. Like many Soldiers, Dinges will transition into another career. He will become a therapeutic horse in Comanche, Okla., where he will be surrounded by children.
Not a bad move for a former racehorse, who was really wired when he first came to the Half Section in 1989, recalled Jonathan Burk, then a Soldier assigned to the unit.
"He had just come off the track, was very high strung and a very good-looking horse," said Burk, now a range control officer at the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security. "He matched the team of horses at the Half Section very well."
Half Section Chief Gerald Stuck worked with Dinges in 1992-93, when Stuck was a Soldier at the unit and in 2008, when he became assistant chief of the Half Section.
"He's been the hardest-pulling horse that we've had in over 20 years," said Stuck, who became chief in January. "He was a good horse, very easygoing and calm."
Stuck reflected on Dinges' personality.
"He could untie his own rope and he'd play with it for hours," he said.
During the retirement ceremony, Stuck introduced Dinges replacement, Shepard named after the former chief of the Half Section Richard Shepard, who retired at the beginning of 2010.
"I thought it would be a privilege to name it after him," Stuck said.
Shepard's name is a deviation from the other horses, who are named after former Fort Sill commanding generals, such as General Baxter, he said.
Shepard, like all horses at the Half Section, was donated by the Lawton-Fort Sill Association of the U.S. Army.
"AUSA supports the Half Section so each time a horse is retired and a new horse needs to be purchased, we fund that," said Nate Slate, Lawton-Fort Sill AUSA president elect.
Although he wouldn't reveal the cost of Shepard, Slate said all of the horses "are always a bargain." AUSA also assists finding the horses a home after their Half Section days.
Shepard will go through months of training before he appears in a ceremony, Stuck said.
He will have to get accustomed to band music, cannon fire, wearing a harness and pulling the half section a 75mm field artillery cannon and the ammunition, Stuck said.
Shepard, like most of the Half Section's horses is a quarter horse, but the unit also has
standard bred and paint horses, Stuck said.
Quarter horses average about 1,200 pounds and are between 15.2 and 16.3 hands, Stuck said. One hand equals 4 inches.
The horses at the Half Section are not show horses or pets; there isn't a "Trigger" or "Mr. Ed" among them in the corral.
"They really are working horses," Stuck said.
Still, they have a pretty good life being maintained, trained and primed for ceremonies by eight Soldiers, who volunteered for the one-year tour at the Half Section.
"Soldiers take care of them and groom them every day, they're pampered with their feed schedules and they get a lot of attention," he said.
At the end of the ceremony, Dinges was donated to Jane Smith, Spirit Horse Chisholm Trail Center chief executive officer. She said Dinges will be used for riding therapy with older special needs children.
"He'll be getting a lot of kisses," she said with a laugh.