An Army report covered by CNN this week revealed that military horses serving as pall-bearers for Arlington National Cemetery have been suffering poor-living conditions, with one horse recently dying in February with 44 pounds of gravel and sand in his stomach.
The report was compiled in February by the U.S. Army’s Public Health Command-Atlantic after two horses with the Old Guard — known for guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — died within days of each other.
A lack of space, inadequate funding and the turnover of unit commanders were noted as the primary issues. The horses were fed poor-quality feed, suffered parasite infestations and lived in excrement-filled mud lots.
More than a dozen inspections conducted between 2019 and 2022 gave the horse facilities “unsatisfactory” sanitary ratings, despite supposed efforts made by the soldiers of Caisson Platoon, who train and care for the horses, the report found, according to CNN.
There are more than 60 horses attached to the Old Guard, all of which are rotated between stables at Fort Meyer and a six-acre pasture complex at Fort Belvoir, both near Washington, D.C.
Tony, the horse with 44 pounds of sediment in his gut, died of sand colic, the result of being fed in inappropriate feeding areas.
Dr. Gabriele Landolt, an assistant professor of equine medicine at Colorado State University’s veterinary college, told CNN that the amount of sediment found in Tony’s stomach was definitely outside the norm.
“No, that is a lot,” he said. “That should not be in the colon.”
Mickey, the other horse that died in February, died of septic colic, which was caused by an untreated gastrointestinal illness or injury. Manure and bacteria made their way into his bloodstream, causing an infection.
Following Mickey and Tony’s deaths, stool samples were collected from 25 other horses in the unit, with the report showing that 80% of the horses had “moderate to high levels of sediment in their stool,” according to CNN.
The report also revealed the horses were being fed low-nutritional hay, CNN reported. The “color is yellow-brown with large amounts of thick stems and few leaves; dry, dusty, and brittle,” the report showed.
A senior leader with the Old Guard interviewed by CNN reportedly said that “short-term fixes” were already underway, including the purchase of mats for the feeding areas and contract changes to improve the quality of hay fed to the horses.
Longer-term improvements, though, like those needed at the facilities at Fort Belvoir and Fort Myer, rely on increased or re-purposed funding and “may take multiple years to fix,” the senior leader said.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran and a master's candidate at New York University's Business & Economic Reporting program.