The Old Guard Caisson Platoon Soldiers on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall experience extensive training prior to riding on funeral missions at Arlington National Cemetery. For many of the Soldiers, there is a major transition from their initial Army training, and most have never ridden horses prior to joining the Caisson training program.
Privates First Class Tyler Meyers, Chad Braithwaite and Nathan Foltz are among the most recent Caisson members to complete training and have been on funeral missions with the platoon for about two weeks. The Soldiers completed about 19 rides on May 2.
The three Caisson members were among a group of six Soldiers who learned horsemanship during a nine-week training course at Fort Belvoir, Va., preparing to ride in the ANC funeral ceremonies. In addition to progressing from nervousness and being comfortable on horseback, the Soldiers learned various riding techniques, passed a final test, then spent two weeks training at the Caisson stables on JBM-HH.
Soldiers said the additional training on the base enabled them to learn postillion-style riding, which requires a rider to control two horses at the same time. The horse on the left is ridden, and the horse on the right is rider-less.
“We also learned our tack, [including saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses] and how to put it on the horse, take it off and clean it as well,” said Meyers. “We have to be very proficient with tack,” added Braithwaite.
“It was difficult at first to learn everything. Training on JBM-HH is a lot different than what we learned down at Belvoir. We were doing a lot of cowboy stuff down there and here the training is preparing for and riding in the cemetery,” said Foltz. “We also had brand new tack here. I didn’t know any of the saddle parts we use here.”
“These horses we’re currently riding are very respectful, so it wasn’t difficult to earn their respect,” said Meyers. “They already completed their training when we started riding them here.”
Braithwaite explained it’s difficult for a newly-trained Caisson member to confuse the trained horses. “They already know what they’re doing, and it’s up to us to come out here and know what we’re doing,” he said.
“I never rode a horse before coming here,” said Foltz. “The first horse I ever rode [on missions] was Duke [the biggest training horse for this class]. However, once I got here, I relaxed more because I’d already ridden Dozer for nine weeks.”
The first position the platoon members qualify on during funeral missions is the swing position, riding in the middle of the Caisson. “We complete 20 rides [20 missions] riding this position,” explained Meyers.
“If you’re doing well and qualify [in the swing position], you’ll move up to the lead, which is the front two horses,” added Braithwaite.
Depending on the squad, the rider must complete a required number of missions before going back to the rear or wheel position. “I know with my squad, I have to complete 40 rides on lead before moving to wheel,” said Meyers.
Foltz spoke fondly of his horse, Rowdy, whom he rides on the swing position of the platoon during missions. “He’s a great and loveable horse. He shuffles his feet a lot on missions while waiting on the Families to arrive at the cemetery so I really have to make sure he’s not moving around a lot.”
Braithwaite, Meyers and Foltz agreed that initially, the biggest challenge they experienced once on funeral missions was alleviating nerves. “Not that I felt in the spotlight, but being mounted on horseback during funerals is an adjustment. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the nervousness, but I’ve become more comfortable,” admitted Braithwaite.
Foltz said he has developed respect and fondness for his horse, as do all Caisson platoon members. “The horse beside Rowdy is his little buddy Ruben. They have a stall next to one another and are best friends. They’re really good together but apart they’re horrible on the wagon,” said Foltz with a smile.
“When I started riding in the cemetery, my team leader showed me a few tricks to do which helped a lot.” Foltz explained the challenge of riding Rowdy and handling Ruben. “They’re very light on the mount so I don’t bear a lot of pressure with them. If I apply hard pressure, they both get very agitated and do the opposite of what I want them to do.”
“When I first came here to work, I never thought I’d be in the Caisson riding horses,” said Braithwaite. “It’s an added bonus being a Soldier here and doing more than just being in a line company. This and serving at the Tomb of the Unknowns are a bonus to being assigned here at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall,” he said. “Years from now, I can look back and remember this experience.”
For anyone interested in becoming a member of the Caisson Platoon, Foltz highly recommends it. “I almost didn’t come here, but am very glad I did. It’s definitely challenging. We work long hours and it’s physically challenging but it’s an important job.”
Foltz explained prior to riding with the Caisson, he marched behind the band in funeral ceremonies with the escort platoon. “It’s interesting to see the entire [funeral] process from a different perspective. It’s also a nice experience, yet very humbling to be part of these ceremonies.”
Meyers and Braithwaite agreed. The Soldiers and their horses in the Caisson Platoon concentrate on doing their job well and are proud of the role they play in paying respect to their fallen comrades laid to rest in ANC.
“It’s about giving back to the Families,” he said.