PETA has demanded the U.S. military stop using caisson horses in Arlington National Cemetery after a U.S. Army report obtained by CNN revealed that the working animals are kept in poor conditions.
The animal rights group called for the tradition of horse-drawn carriages carrying fallen service members’ caskets in Arlington National Cemetery to be “relegated to the history books.”
“Forcing neglected horses to pull coffins dishonors America’s human heroes. Just as with the bearskin caps on the Queen’s Guard in London, this old-fashioned ritual must be relegated to the history books and replaced by 21st century pomp,” PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in an email to American Military News on Thursday. “PETA urges Arlington National Cemetery to retire these horses so they can have a decent life and is ready to help find wonderful homes where they’ll get the care, affection, and attention they desperately need.”
According to the CNN report, one horse died earlier this year due to preventable intestinal compaction caused by 44 pounds of gravel and sand discovered in its stomach. A second horse died within days of the first.
Following their deaths, the U.S. Army’s Public Health Command-Atlantic conducted an inspection at the request of the commander of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as the Old Guard, which monitors the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Between 2019 and 2022, eighteen inspections determined the sanitary conditions of the pastures, barns and paddocks were “unsatisfactory.” Despite “significant efforts” to improve the working animals’ living conditions, the issues persisted, largely “due to [a] lack of funding,” according to the report.
Up to eight military funerals are performed each day by the Caisson Platoon, which trains and cares for the horses. Over 60 Old Guard horses are moved between two locations: a stable facility with three paddocks and a 6-acre pasture roughly 30 minutes from Washington, D.C.
The report notes that there is “substantial history and overwhelming evidence that illustrates the prolonged existence of significant health hazards” for the horses.
Col. Patrick Roddy, the commander of the Old Guard, said lack of funding was the primary reason for the terrible conditions.
“Find me a commander that doesn’t want more money,” he said. “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.”