Skip to Content

Report Finds Army Old Guard Horses Living in Poor Conditions After Two Die

Report Finds Army Old Guard Horses Living in Poor Conditions After Two Die

Our readers support us. This post may contain affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases. Learn More

A recent CNN army report has revealed that the U.S. military horses used as pallbearers at Arlington National Cemetery are living in unsanitary and even potentially life-threatening conditions.

According to the report, the horses are eating low-quality feed, suffering from parasites, and are turned out in manure-filled lots mixed with mud and gravel.

The news came to light in February by the U.S. Army’s Public Health Command-Atlantic after two horses with the Old Guard died. Horses at the Old Guard are best known for guarding the famed Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Poor Living Conditions

Of the two horses that died, one had a shocking 44 pounds of gravel and sand in its stomach. The horse, named Tony, passed away after suffering from sand colic.

Horses pulling a carriage at Arlington National Cemetery
Old Guard horses at Arlington National Cemetery. Andrea Izzotti /

Mickey, the other horse to pass away, died from septic colic as a result of an untreated gastrointestinal illness or injury. An infection occurred after manure and bacteria made their way into his bloodstream. The two horses died unexpectedly within 96 hours of each other.

The primary issues for the horses’ well-being include lack of space, poor funding, and the turnover of the unit commanders.

The horses at the Old Guard have been receiving low-nutritional hay, which they have been given in inappropriate feeding areas.

Between 2019 and 2022, more than a dozen inspections gave the facilities “unsatisfactory” sanitary ratings. Despite supposed efforts made by the soldiers of Caisson Platoon that train and care for the horses, there were several systematic problems.

Military burial ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery
David Kay /

Over 60 horses are connected with the Old Guard, rotating between Fort Meyer and a six-acre pasture facility at Fort Belvoir. Even when combined together, the two facilities fall far short of the acre per horse recommended by experts in the equine field.

Though a CNN tour of the stables showed well-kept stalls, the turn-out for the horses is far from ideal. The horses are regularly turned out in groups into small paddocks with standing water, gravel, and lots of manure.

The small, unkept pastures become a breeding ground for parasites. In addition, the gravel and sand in the feeding area are big contributors to sand colic.

Following Mickey and Toiny’s untimely deaths, stool samples were taken from 25 other horses in the unit. The report showed that 80% of the horses had “moderate to high levels of sediment in their stool.”

Col. Patrick Roddy gives a tour of the Caisson Barn on September 17, 2021.
Col. Patrick Roddy gives a tour of the Caisson Barn on September 17, 2021.

“This is a strong indicator of environmental problems. Preventative health measures are required to correct identified environmental issues in an effort to prevent further injury colic, and/or death,” the report said.

A Need for Improvement

According to a senior leader with the Old Guard interviewed by CNN, “short-term fixes” were already in the process of happening.

Such fixes include feeding higher-quality hay and installing mats for the paddock feeding areas.

As for long-term improvements, it may take years to see any improvement in the facilities of Fort Meyer and Fort Belvoir.

US Army marine funeral at Arlington cemetery coffin on the horse coach
Andrea Izzotti /

For the changes that need to happen, it would require more funding. Making improvements requires an application process along with coordination with entities like Army Installation Management Command, Army Contracting Command, and engineers.

“The first thing I would tell you to do is I want to tear down a bunch of buildings over here and expand out the turnout lots. I’d like to redo a bunch of these facilities. But on a day-to-day operational funding, horses are not going hungry, horses are not going without medical care, horses are not going without the required supplements. Our prioritization of funding goes to the health and welfare of the horses, and we’re constantly watching that,” said Col. Patrick Roddy.


Tuesday 10th of May 2022

Breaks my heart!!!