JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. (ANS - March 13, 2012) --
Respect and attention are words commonly heard throughout the armed
forces. For most, it's an understood concept. For the four-legged
service animals of Caisson Platoon, it's a learned habit.
Pfc. Tyler Meyers (left) rides Corona, Sgt. Christopher Thore (right) rides Tazi, and Pvt. Chad Braithwaite (background) rides Duke during a training on Fort Belvoir, Va., March 2, 2012. They, along with three other Soldiers, are training to be part of the Caisson Platoon. Photo
by Rachel Larue
Six Soldiers, ranging from private to sergeant, have
spent the last seven weeks of a nine-week training course at
Fort Belvoir, Va., learning horsemanship, in order to
prepare for riding in Arlington National Cemetery funeral
Simultaneously, six horses learned the
program used by the Caisson to train Soldiers in
horsemanship. Sgt. Erik Weis, Caisson veterinarian
technician and course instructor, explained that the horses
were acquired in the fall.
"These are the first
group of Soldiers to ride them," Weis explained. "They
aren't really learning the program; they are teaching the
horses the program. It was a good experience for everybody."
Weis explained that as the horses progress through
training classes, Soldiers will also be able to progress
further into the program as they won't have to worry so much
about training the horses as the current class has.
The Soldiers and horses had to learn several techniques
including diagonals, where they run the horse around the
outside of the arena before cutting one corner to the
opposite corner, and various forms of yielding to either get
the horse to full-on stop or back-up.
work is not done, those who passed the final test March 9
will spend the next two weeks learning caisson training at
Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Weis, an instructor for the
course, explained the riders learn postilion-style riding at
JBM-HH. The style requires a rider to control two horses;
generally the horse on the left is ridden while the one on
the right is rider-less.
The course isn't there to
just teach caisson training, said Weis. They teach the
Soldiers how to bond with the horses and gain the respect of
the steed they are mounted on.
familiarizes [the Soldiers] with horses, helps them build
their confidence. A lot of times in the past, we've had guys
graduate that were afraid -- afraid to canter, afraid to
trot -- there was still fear there because they didn't know
the answer," said Weis.
He explained prior to the
caisson using a formal training curriculum, the Soldiers
would be trained only for the mission at hand, not so much
for horsemanship and the ability to ride a horse in all
Not being trained properly on a horse
could cause problems, as most of the caisson Soldiers go
into the program with no experience around horses at all.
Out of the current six trainees, only one had previous
experience with horses.
Pfc. Tyler Meyers, riding the
training horse Corona, said he's been riding horses since he
was 12 years old.
"I'd never done [ground training]
before. Back home we'd just get on and let it rip," said
Meyers. "I came from Bravo [Company] and I liked it there,
but I've always loved horses. I thought why not get paid for
something I like to do."
The general consensus by
those who had no prior experience riding a horse was
"It's very intimidating the first time you
go into a trot or a canter. I wouldn't say it's scary, but
it's a different experience," said Pvt. Chad Braithwaite,
who rode Duke, the biggest training horse for this class.
"We learned about horses in general, the way they are,
the way they act and their temperaments," said Braithwaite.
"Then we went into what is ground work, we established a
foundation with the horse as far as them moving off of our
cues and them respecting us."
As part of their
training, the trainees had to become familiar with their
horses, as the new recruits soon found -- no two horses are
"Corona is a very lazy horse. He doesn't
really like to do anything," said Meyers. "He's also very
herd sour because he wants to stay around the other horses.
I had to gain his respect then break him of his bad habits."
Pvt. Alex Krieger, on Quirt, said in order to break a
horse of being herd sour, the rider has to make the horse
work harder to be around other horses. If the horse wants to
go one way, pull the other way or yield the horse.
"The goal is to get the horse to listen to you and not the
other horses," said Krieger.
"At first [Dozer was]
stubborn. If he doesn't want to do something, you really
have to work him to go do it," said Pfc. Nathan Foltz who
had never even touched a horse prior to training with the
caisson. "He's a lot better now, but there are still things
he doesn't like to do, but just give him a little nudge and
he goes right for it, otherwise he's a big baby trying to
lean his head on me."
Although it's not all training
at the barn, Soldiers form a bond with the horses. As
temperamental as the horses can be, the Soldiers admitted to
building a relationship with their training horses and plan
on coming back to ride them at some point in the future. The
horses belong to the caisson, but the Soldiers are allowed
to take them out on the weekends for trail rides.
final week and throughout the riding portion of the
training, the students went on various trail rides to get
out in the open and learn how to control a horse in an open
area. They also were given the opportunity to play soccer on
A 36-inch colorful soccer ball was placed
in the arena with the horses, being the second week for most
of the steeds with the ball; they were desensitized enough
to approach and kick the ball around from one end of the
arena to the other.
One horse however, Clinch, ridden
by Weis, had no previous experience with the soccer ball.
Like a cartoon horse, Clinch leaned back and spread his
front legs in order to get away from the ball. Following the
order to keep his hooves planted, he stayed grounded while
doing everything he could to get away from the ball.
Clinch, causing a scene while becoming acquainted with the
rolling monstrosity, gained the interest of the cemetery
horses at Fort Belvoir on their week of rest and relaxation.
The cemetery horses were in the adjacent grazing field at
the facility. Covered in dirt, ears perked and standing at
attention, the horses mimicked the orderliness of their
riders while in the cemetery, as they watched Clinch.
It's these same horses and the horses of three other
caisson teams that will be ridden by the six candidates upon
completion of the nine-week course. Once sorted into the
team, they will become acquainted with their other team
members as well as the horses they will be riding. Though it
could be days or weeks before they actually enter the
cemetery, it was a general consensus that each of them are
honored to be part of the caisson paying last respects to
their fallen brothers and sisters in arms.
By Chelsea Place, Pentagram Staff Writer
Army News Service
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