Return of horse-drawn funerals at Arlington National Cemetery delayed

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The yearlong suspension of horse-drawn funerals at Arlington National Cemetery is expected to extend for several more months as the Army faces obstacles in improving horse care, service officials said Tuesday.

The Army pulled the 3rd Infantry Regiment’s Caisson Platoon from operations in May 2023 after several horses died from poor living conditions. A year later, the popular program is still struggling to restart, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said.

“It’s surprisingly complex and challenging,” she said during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. “We have quite a bit of work to do before we can operate that particular service, which is so important, safely and efficiently.”

The horses of the platoon, known as the Old Guard, provide gravesite escort to caskets of fallen service members on a caisson, which is a wagon once used to carry ammunition and bring dead soldiers off the battlefield.

There were up to eight horse-drawn funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery per day until the Army paused the program over health concerns last year. Two of the platoon’s horses died within days of each other in 2022, both with gravel and sand in their digestive systems.

An Army investigation showed horses were living in cramped and unsatisfactory conditions, grazing on fields littered with construction debris and manure, consuming low-quality hay and suffering from parasites.

Officials blamed the poor conditions on mismanagement, lack of resources and poor training on how to care for horses.

The Army had hoped to rehabilitate the horse program and slowly reintroduce horses into memorial services in late June, beginning with a riderless horse trailing a hearse. Full horse-drawn funerals were expected to return by the fall.

But Wormuth said the platoon still needs to purchase 30 additional horses and find pastureland to support them. The stables at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., also need to be reconstructed to care properly for the horses, she said.

“It’s going to be several more months before we can offer caisson funerals again,” Wormuth said.

The remains of the fallen have been carried in a hearse or a cemetery vehicle since the suspension.

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 400,000 veterans and family members and conducts up to 30 funeral services each workday. Only higher ranks are eligible for full honors funerals that include the caisson platoon.

“The support we provide at Arlington National Cemetery is sacred to us and to all of our veterans, and we’re trying to stand up this capability [again],” Gen. Randy George, the Army chief of staff, assured lawmakers on Tuesday.

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