A typical Saturday for Fort Sam Houston’s Caisson Section horses is not much different from most Soldiers.
After a long week of helping U.S. Army North’s Military Funeral Honors Platoon honor departed Soldiers at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, they usually get to sleep in Saturdays and lounge around the homestead all day, without worrying about wearing a uniform or fastidious grooming.
Feb. 6, was not a typical Saturday for the horses or their riders.
The day began at the Fort Sam Houston stables long before sunrise as the horses’ riders arrived and began preparations for a ride through downtown San Antonio as featured participants in the Western Heritage Parade and Cattle Drive. The parade is an annual tradition that serves as one of the preliminary events for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, which runs from Thursday through Feb. 28.
“The Western Heritage Parade and Cattle Drive is all about Texas history and the Army was a big part of that,” said Staff Sgt. Edward Montgomery, funeral honors platoon sergeant. “This was my second year in this parade and it’s a great honor to represent the Army and its traditions.”
“It is important to us that the public sees what we do for the fallen Soldiers and their families” said Sgt. Jimmy Sandoval, a rider and horse trainer with the funeral honors platoon. “We’re meticulous in our preparation to show the commitment and dedication we have,” he said of the preparation, which included shining riding equipment, bathing, grooming, and checking the horses from head to hoof.
The caisson horses are all hand-picked for their temperament and intelligence and then highly trained for parade discipline, but marching them through a metropolis to the cheers of thousands of spectators is different from the quiet, pastoral setting they’re used to at the cemetery.
Also factoring in the close proximity to hundreds of other horses plus a herd of longhorn cattle, the safety of the public and the platoon was the top priority for the caisson riders.
“Two hours prior to the parade we acclimate the horses to the change of conditions to include noises and crowds that can make them uncomfortable” said stable master John Deeley. “Horses feed from the riders' emotions and they need to be familiar with each other during the change of surroundings.”
Although the platoon’s primary mission is to perform funeral honors, appearances at public events such as the Western Heritage Parade help keep the Army connected to the community, and a chance to demonstrate the pride they have in their mission.
“I have the opportunity to give back and show my appreciation to the fallen and to those before me” said Staff Sgt. Samuel Morales, a squad leader in the funeral honors platoon.
“There is no greater job than to honor the fallen,” agreed Sandoval.
The Army North Military Funeral Honors Platoon is responsible for presenting military funeral honors in San Antonio and 53 counties in south Texas. The caisson section participates in approximately 100-150 of those funerals every year.
The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo runs through Feb. 28 at the AT&T Center and Freeman Coliseum complex.