The treatment of the Army Old Guard caisson horses as set forth in an Associated Press article in The Free Lance–Star on May 14 is a national disgrace. Not until the deaths of several veteran horses, and likely the courage of a whistleblower, did the appalling condition under which these animals lived and died come to light. To recap, the horses had very little turnout in small dirt areas littered with construction debris and manure barely large enough to support six horses let alone a herd of 64, low quality hay indigestible by older horses, dirt and sediment found in manure, and colon impactions from consuming sand and gravel while searching for bits of hay.
Horrific by any standard but called simply "mismanagement" by the commanding general, a result not of abuse, but rather "a lack of full understanding by Army managers of the horses' needs and the training needed for soldiers caring for them … and a lack of resources." Horse manure! A result of breathtaking incompetence, gross negligence, cruelty perhaps, but not simply "mismanagement." A contract for hay not specifying nutritional requirements, Army veterinarians not raising concerns up the chain of command, untrained personnel making medical assessments. Plenty of blame to go around.
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Leasing decent turnout fields where horses can be horses, retiring senior horses, improving training, hiring a horse professional to manage the unit, suspending operations until horses recover are a good start. But these are longstanding problems with long-term fixes. Perhaps a board of visitors or other outside oversight group is needed to protect the horses and provide expertise. RIP Mickey and Tony and all the others who have suffered. May the future pastures be greener.