ARLINGTON, Va. (Gray DC) – It’s before sunrise, and Burns is getting ready to serve in a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.
A horse's journey: From the wild to the Army (Source: Gray DC)
He is wearing a ceremonial halter and custom saddle, and his special horseshoes are secure.
Burns was born in the wild in Nevada, but his personality, and a bit of luck, got him to this treasured burial ground.
“He was just a good little guy,” says Caisson Platoon herd manager Robert Brown.
The federal government rounded up Burns because of an overpopulation on public lands. They took him to a Nevada prison program where inmates taught him basic skills.
Burns stood out - calm, approachable and beautiful.
“Temperament is a big thing. You see how much these horses have to go through to get this done, and so they have to be pretty calm, and they’re not always like that,” Brown said.
Burns is part of the Army’s Caisson Platoon, the last unit to use horses full time.
The platoon’s job is to take fallen soldiers to their final resting place.
Caissons are carts that were first used by the military to carry ammunition, and then bodies off the battlefield.
Now, caskets rest on top during military funerals.
With precision, the platoon hitches the horses to the caissons as they prepare for the funeral.
“They don’t realize what they’re doing, and they might not enjoy it or appreciate it, but we certainly appreciate them for it,” Caisson Platoon horse trainer Ruben Troyer said.
The soldiers sit in solemn military attention, using a unique riding style of guiding two horses at once.
“It’s unreal just to think I’m blessed to be a part of this, and to work with horses and to conduct those ceremonies for the fallen,” said Burns’ rider Private Gary Price.
As the sun comes up, Burns walks through the gates at Arlington National Cemetery. He is pulling the caisson through the peaceful burial grounds -- the last ride for a lost American hero.
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