By Rick Emert, Fort Carson MountaineerMay 20, 2009
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- With 34 years of service between them, two prominent members of the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard have retired.
The two, who not only pulled their own weight but carried the Mounted Color Guard for so many years, were given a brief but warm send off at Fort Carson's Turkey Creek Ranch, May 11.
To some people, their retirement packages may look pitiful: no pension, no medical benefits, no GI Bill - not even a ceremonial American flag.
Although they head into retirement without even the shirts on their backs, the deal is pretty sweet for Master Sgt. Houdini, 21, and Sgt. 1st Class Possum, 17.
After years of hard, meticulous work in thousands of Mountain Post military ceremonies, the two will head to a ranch in Florida where they can simply be horses again.
"They'll be horses. They'll hang out with the herd," said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Roy, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard.
Houdini and Possum will join other service horses - from mounted color guards, mounted police forces and even service horses for the disabled - at the 265-acre Mill Creek Farm in Alachua, Fla.
The sanctuary staff provides the horses' food and includes an on-site veterinarian. The Mill Creek Farm owners allow the horses to live out their remaining years on the ranch, an important factor in deciding on a location, since Army regulations prohibit ceremonial horses from being adopted out, Roy said.
The Mounted Color Guard began preparing the horses for retirement months ago by removing them from the duty list for ceremonies and putting them out to pasture in the evenings.
"We'll put them out every afternoon before we leave. They're used to it," Roy said. "We take them on the road just because they are so herd-bound. They really don't like being separated."
The horses were still taking part in other events, such as the May 9, Fort Carson Open House, in their semi-retirement.
"We had 'Dini out there. Kids were on the back of him. Kids were hand feeding him grass. We keep them interacting with the rest of us," he said.
The two donned their saddles and one ceremonial shoe a final time for the retirement ceremony. In the ceremony, the saddles and shoe were removed to signify that the horses had completed their service to the Army. Although the ceremony isn't required, Roy insisted on recognizing the horses for their service.
"I felt like I owed that to these horses," he said. "I rode Possum last year in the National Cavalry Competition, level one. That horse took care of me between all the training that I did a month prior. That horse knew the routine; he knew what to do. He knew what was expected, and it was an easy competition for me."
Both Houdini and Possum had placed or won several times in the NCC over the years, which was a factor in the two earning such senior ranks.
"It's kind of like a promotion system like in the Army. You have 'x' amount of time in service, 'x' amount of time in grade," Roy said. "If they do certain things and they get better and better, then they can earn their rank. If they go to the NCC and they place in the top three or five, then when we come back we do a promotion ceremony."
That doesn't mean Houdini or Possum could make the other horses do push-ups. Instead, more rank means that more is expected from them, Roy said.
And, as with anyone with rank, the horses can be demoted for "being stupid. We had one horse which got promoted to corporal, bit the commanding general and was demoted all in the same day," Roy said.
Although the unit still has six horses, the Mounted Color Guard Soldiers will miss the two senior horses, Roy said.
"It hurts; it does. They mean a lot," Roy said. "I rode Possum the first day I came down here, and that horse has been awesome. 'Dini took a shine to me from day one. I would stay out in the paddocks, and 'Dini would come up and nudge me and put his nose under my arm. I would hang around 'Dini for hours. I have a bond with all of my horses."
Although he will miss them, Roy said it is time for the two to retire.
The simple life should be a sweet reward after years of pomp and ceremony as Houdini and Possum walk off into the sunset at their own pace, nary a cannon in sight.