JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (Nov. 23, 2011) -- Within the area of Holmes County, Ohio, rests the world's largest Amish community, a community which taught Sgt. Ruben Troyer, from an early age, the true value of horses.
"There were 20 to 30 horses specific to my family," said Troyer. "Horses were our transportation and our means to farm. They were our livelihood."
Now 29 years old, and the senior horse trainer for the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson platoon, Troyer is still depending on horses, but in a totally different way.
The Old Guard Caisson platoon, the only platoon of its kind in the United States Army, maintains a solemn mission, laying to rest our nation's heroes in Arlington National Cemetery, Va. Six horses, lead by four Soldiers, pull a flag draped casket atop a black artillery caisson into the cemetery five days a week.
"I realize the success of this mission starts with me because I have to get the horses ready before they go out into the cemetery," said Troyer.
Although Troyer admits this task is a full-time job and lots of hard work, Troyer doesn't deny his Amish roots help ease the pressure.
"My upbringing taught me how horses react in certain situations and what I can and can't do around them," said Troyer. "I've learned their bad habits and I know ultimately it's all about earning their respect and confidence."
For Troyer, gaining a horse's respect and confidence starts with first earning its trust.
"You have to show the horse who's in charge by also letting them know you're there to lead them and not hurt them," Troyer added.
Staying true to his word, Troyer never leads horses new to the Caisson family out blindly.
"I want to be the first one to ride the new horses out into the cemetery," said Troyer. "I'll stay with the each horse for a couple of weeks to ensure he's familiar with the cemetery and integrated well before I pass him off to a new rider."
No matter who's riding the horse or what the horse is pulling; a plow, an Amish wagon or Caisson, the spirit of a horse holds deep meaning in Troyer's heart.
"To see a horse that has absolutely no regard for a human being at first, then seeing them respond to training, getting their respect and confidence, and getting them to trust me enough to put a saddle on their back and ride them to the point that they are functional in a ceremony for the United States Army is a great honor," said Troyer.