There is a bronze monument near One World Trade Center in New York City that commemorates the memory of those who lost their lives when the twin towers were attacked as well as those who fought in Afghanistan in the months following September 11, 2001. Like many war memorials before it, the statue recognizes two differing types of service members. One is the Special Forces Soldier. The other represents the horses that were ridden into combat.
The sculpture was created by artist Douwe Blumberg. It shows a soldier on horse back moving over rough terrain. The image is stunning reminding us how resilient horses are and of how when you are faced with terrain that modern mechanized vehicles can not cross, it is the horse, mule or donkey that is pressed into service.
Mountain ranges still pose an obstacle to man even in this day and age of the helicopter. Horses can operate at altitudes that helicopters can not, carrying food, troops and other supplies into areas that are otherwise inaccessible.
There is a certain irony in that our high tech soldier of today must still depend on the horse in these rough areas. Imagine being equipped with the best in night vision goggles, laser range finders and satellite communications and having all that gear packed on a mule.
Feelings of nostalgia and of lost traditions fade when you see a photo of a service member on horse back. These brave soldiers and their mounts exemplify what is noble about both man and horse. When called upon to defend our country, these brave soldiers both human and equine rise to the challenge.
I encourage you to read the story of the 5th Special Forces. There are stories that will make the most hardened equestrian shake her or his head and say, “That is one tough soldier.” It takes guts to ride a horse into battle, it takes even more with a broken back and a shot of morphine to ease the pain.
Those of us who are involved in the equestrian community are often asked what it is about horses that attracts us to them. Sometimes it is hard to put one's finger on exactly what it is. There are so many aspects from the thrill of being on the back of a horse at a trot to the way they act when you are around them on the ground. One thing you can be sure of however is that when you look at what horses have done for us in recent years to help in protecting our freedom, you can not help but feel a deep level of gratitude for them.
On June 9, 1941, the last Chief of Cavalry, Major General John K. Herr sent a letter to General Innis P. Swift in which he wrote, “If we can get by this period of ignorance and prejudice and prevent these shortsighted gumps from wiping us out of the picture in their mistaken belief that the iron horse replaces one of flesh and blood, we will surely come into our own. “ It isn't too difficult to imagine what Major General Herr would have thought about the men who rode into battle on horse back some 60 years after he wrote those words.
The post photo was taken by Staff Sgt. Russell Klika and is in the public domain.