BY ELEANOR WATSON, CBS News
The Army is extending theleading caissons during funerals at Arlington National Cemetery through June 2024 due to their health.
The initial pause, which began in May, for the caisson platoon was scheduled to last 45 days. But during that time, veterinarians recommended significantly extending the pause to a year to give the horses more time for rehabilitation and for the Army to make changes to the program.
Due to injuries to their muscles, joints or hoofs, 27 military working horses have beenthat have equipment the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment does not, Army officials told reporters Thursday.
Army officials said the rehabilitation for the horses could include treadmills, treadmills with water, or treadmills with vibration to improve the healing processes and strengthen the horses’ muscle systems.
The caisson platoon provides horses that lead the caisson – a chest historically used for ammunition – carrying the caskets of fallen service members to their final resting places at Arlington National Cemetery.
An investigation into the health of the caisson platoon – prompted by the death of two horses within 96 hours of each other in Feb. 2022 – criticized the horses’ living conditions.
During the year-long pause, the Army plans to hire more experts, assess new tack and saddles to reduce workload, and· test lighter caisson design options to lessen the burden on horses.
The Army in the next few weeks will test out a caisson that’s 20% lighter – reducing the weight from 2,600 pounds to 2,000 pounds.
The year-long suspension in caisson operations only impacts the method of conveying the hearse to the gravesite. Other elements of funeral honors with escort such as the service band, escort platoon, firing party, body bearers or bugler will not be impacted.
Army officials said that Arlington National Cemetery expects that in late June, a riderless horse will trail the hearse in a small number of eligible funerals and beginning in fall 2023, a horse with a rider will lead the hearse at all ceremonies that would have had caisson support.
Arlington National Cemetery has begun notifying families whose services might be affected.