I saw a post from the 3rd U.S. Infantry (AKA the Old Guard) cross my feed the other day announcing the loss of an 11 year veteran of the Caisson Platoon.
From the post:
Our military working horses serve a key role in our honorable duty of escorting America’s heroes to their final resting place. We are extremely saddened to share that our equine teammate, Rambler, has left our ranks. After the veterinary professionals identified that an intestinal issue was causing him acute abdominal distress, they recommended that Rambler should be humanely euthanatized.
Rambler was a seasoned member of our team with 11 years of service in the Caisson Platoon. A much-loved member of first squad, Rambler served in thousands of funerals, honoring our nation’s heroes during his time in America’s Regiment. Rambler was a well-rounded teammate, having served in the swing, lead, and section pony positions. He was friendly and warm to both new and experienced riders. Rambler will be sorely missed by all of us, and we will forever treasure his service to our military and our nation.
Shortly after I read the post an image flashed through my mind. A couple of quick messages back and forth with a dear lady up north, and I sat down to put hands on the keyboard.
He woke with a start and quickly scrambled to his feet. He was sure he’d been in the barn, why was he in a field? He shook his head and looked around, a long forelock falling across his forehead. Had he missed a stable call?
He stood there for several moments breathing in the fresh air, rich with the smell of green grass, not too dissimilar from the smells in some areas of the cemetery grounds. But where were the others of his herd? He flicked his ears back and tossed his head, growing more worried. Where was the barn?
And then they came: several showing the casual grace of a Caisson mount, followed by others of various disciplines. Each paused briefly to nuzzle his shoulder and nicker a soft greeting.
“Hello.” A grey stepped forward, his neck arching proudly. “I’m Trapper. This is BJ and Cap.” He nodded to a pair of dark bays behind him.
“Hello.” He nodded and looked at the crowd forming around him. “I’m Rambler. Can I ask where we are? Nothing here looks or smells familiar.”
“We’re in the Field.” Trapper told him, as if that answered everything.
“I can see that we’re in a field. But what field? How did I get here? I was in my stall. The doctor came, I feel asleep, and now I am here.”
Trapper tossed his head in annoyance. “Not a field, The Field. Where we go after our time is over.”
“Our time?” Rambler stomped a hoof in annoyance. “Make sense. What are we doing here?”
“We’re waiting for new orders.” Cap offered.
“Can I try?” A gentle voice came from the side of the herd. Rambler looked over and saw a strong boned, black and white, mare lift her head. She didn’t have the baring of a Caisson mount but there was an air of confidence about her. “The military types understand orders, but they aren’t always good at explaining things.”
Rambler flicked his ears forward as she gently moved a few paces forward.
“I’m Cookie. You were sick, right?”
“The doctor stopped your pain and sent you here. This is where all beloved beings come to wait for our special human, or a Rescuer.”
Rambler drew his head back and snorted. He hadn’t noticed that the pain wasn’t there anymore. In fact he felt better than he had in years.
“Here,” Cookie continued, “we are as we were in our peak: free from pain or aliment.”
“What do we do here? What is my new job?” Rambler shifted his weight nervously, flicked his ears back and looked around.
A black and white cat strolled out from under Cookie. “We have no responsibilities here. We can run, play, sleep or eat to our hearts content. Until it is time.”
Cookie nickered in amusement. “This is Felix; he’s one of my very best friends.”
“Cats are nice. They keep mice out of our food.”
“That’s not a problem here. There aren’t many mice here and those that are, are not interested in sneaking in for food. Like us, they have all the food they can want.” Felix sat down and casually groomed a shoulder.
“Time for what?”
“You had a special person? One you long to see again?”
Rambler paused for a moment, thinking. He’d had many humans go through his life during his years serving at that big cemetery. All had been good to him, and he liked all of them. But there was one that had left some time ago, one that had helped him transition in to that job. “Yeah,” he finally said. “There is one that I would like to see again.”
“Then, when his time comes, you will be called. You will go to meet him at the foot of that bridge.” Cookie pointed her muzzle towards a bright, colorful, bridge in the distance. The rest of the herd glanced towards it as well, some sighing. “When you meet him, you will go with him, and any others that also are called.”
“Does any soldier ever know where they’re going before they get their transfer orders?” Trapper asked.
Rambler tossed his head and shifted. “I don’t think so.”
“So, we wait. We rest and enjoy ourselves until we get news of that transfer. Then we go with our human to their next post.”
Rambler looked out over the field, at the size of the herd, at the other animals that had drifted over, and sighed. It was going to take a while to get use to the idea of no duties. But he thought he could accept it, as long as he got to see Ruben again.
BJ is a sideways reference to Black Jack, a well known member of the Old Guard Caisson Platoon. However, I’m sure his beloved handler has also passed so the original Black Jack is probably no longer in the Field.
The rest of the herd, with one notable exception, do not reflect any horses I’ve read or heard about.
Ruben is Sgt. Ruben Troyer. He was a trainer with the Old Guard in 2011 when Rambler joined the team. (some nice photos of Rambler included in the article.) I’m reasonable sure he has moved to a new post or retired since this article was published. But his dedication to the horses clearly shows in the photos. I would not be surprised to find a sizable herd waiting for him when that day comes.
My thanks to Cookie’s mom for not only letting me borrow her dear lady, but helping me make sure I was portraying her honorably.
Too all of our beloved non-human family: You are missed dearly. Until we meet again, enjoy your time at the foot of the Rainbow Bridge.