Back in May we reported on the 45-day pause on the use of military horses during cemetery services at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Arlington is where the US military bury fallen soldiers; assassinated president John F. Kennedy is also buried there, among other notable interments.
In our initial report we wrote about how it was the death of two horses that forced the pause in horse-drawn funerals, while the remaining horses were sent to rehab. Soon after, the 45-day break was extended to a full year upon the recommendation of a veterinarian following initial treatments. The horses were also shipped to rehab facilities with the knowledgeable staff and specialized equipment to handle their various soundness and pain issues. The treatments have included different types of treadmills including water and vibration types that aid with healing processes and strengthening.
In a recent CBS news report, Maj. Beth Byles, an equine vet with Arlington, told how when treating a horse named George, the animal buckled under the pain and collapsed, a reaction she called shocking. “When I touched George’s neck, he fell to his knees, which is a very abnormal response in any horse,” says Maj. Byles. “And I’ve never encountered such a painful horse.” She went on to say that all of the animals were suffering from severe musculoskeletal injuries and neck pain.
How the animals became so unwell was due in part to younger soldiers uneducated in horse management and unable to recognize pain and suffering in the horses, and also convincing senior command that something needed to be done. Fortunately, something was done.
Not only has the rehabilitation program been extended, but the military hired Monique Hovey as the new herd manager. Hovey, who refers to the horses as “soldiers without voices,” got to work ordering new saddles to replace ones that date from WWI (and contributed to back soreness) and redesigning a caisson (the wagon that carries the coffin) to weighs 20% less, both which will help alleviate stress and strain.
As for George, he is still getting treatment and will never return to pulling the caisson. The plan is for the horse-drawn funerals to resume next year – a decision that has Maj. Byles feeling anxious. “I do not ever want to bring the horses back if they can’t be taken care of appropriately,” Byles told CBS. “I do fear that we might revert back to where we were.”