JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
What began as a conversation during a meeting of the Uniformed Veterinarian Medicine Association, or UVMA, turned into a generous gift, as the Fort Sam Houston Caisson Section welcomed a new horse to the team during a ceremony at the Military Funeral Honors building Nov. 27.
Beau, a six-year-old quarter horse, has begun his training as a caparisoned, or riderless, horse and is expected to be part of a ceremonial team that renders honors to fallen service members. It is this long-standing tradition that was the catalyst for the UVMA to get involved.
“I want to keep tradition alive,” said Mary Wieser, Beau’s primary donor. “We seem to be losing tradition in all of our services and it’s just important to honor our military.
“I just felt like I needed to do this. I grew up near Fort Hood and all the ranchers up there gave horses to the 1st Calvary, so I know how important that is and I just felt like I needed to come forward and help the caisson here buy Beau,” Wieser added.
The Fort Sam Houston Caisson Section is one of only two active duty, full-time caisson units in the Army and was established following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
While the Caisson Section is a ceremonial unit first and foremost — dedicated to those Soldiers and Marines who have sacrificed their lives while serving their country or have dedicated their lives to protecting our country — it has matured into an organization that serves as a military ambassador to the local community.
John Poppe, a retired brigadier general who once served as a veterinarian at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, said this donation is just the beginning of this partnership.
“We will buy an initial four horses, and after that it may be a horse every few years,” Poppe said.
“One of our members came and asked the stable-master ‘how can we help?’ They were in need of replacement horses, so I talked to members of local clubs and organizations and with San Antonio being Military City USA, great Americans stepped up and were more than willing to help out.”
Although Beau has only been at the caisson for a short period of time, he has already left quite an impression with his even temperament and his interaction with people. In fact, it also led to a name change after he was purchased.
“His breeder originally named him Casanova,” said stablemaster Aimee Sonnier. “And Mary Wieser didn’t feel like the name fit his personality very well so she renamed him Beau, because a Beau is the kind of guy you would bring home to meet your family. He is a super sweet horse, he loves people, he loves other horses, he loves interaction – he is probably the most chill six-year-old horse I have ever met.”
These are key traits for a horse, because the demands on a caisson horse can be high.
Caissons date back to the time of field cannons in the 18th century. Historically, the caissons carried re-supply weapons onto the battlefield and would return with wounded or deceased Soldiers. It is from this tradition that the caisson came into use for the transport of a single fallen solider to his or her final resting place.
The caisson unit averages more than 130 ceremonies per year, but has had as many as 200 in previous years. The unit is on pace for approximately 80 in 2018.
As a riderless horse, Beau will walk behind the caisson with a boot mounted backwards in the stirrup, signaling a last command to the troops. This is an honor reserved for Soldiers and Marines who attained the rank of colonel or above.
“He will start as a caparisoned horse until we are sure he is used to being in a cemetery,” Sonnier said. “Beau is pretty much ready to go. He has every button. He has all the training we need him to have currently, but not all horses are like that. When our horses are in the cemetery I don’t want them to do anything that will draw the family’s attention from the reason they are there in the first place.”