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The Riderless Horse: Black Jack
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The Riderless Horse: Black Jack

You may be wondering what a "riderless horse" is. A "riderless horse," or a "caparisoned horse," is a horse used in a funeral procession of a fallen leader or a soldier of the United States. This tradition dates back to the time of Ghengis Khan. The horse is typically all black and will have boots positioned backward in the stirrups of the saddle. This represents the life of the fallen hero and often symbolizes that he is taking one last look at his family. One such "riderless" horse was Black Jack.

Named after General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, Black Jack, born in 1947, was a high spirited stallion of possibly Morgan and Quarter Horse descent. He is considered one of the last US Army's Quartermaster-issued horses. It became clear that Black Jack was not intended to be ridden. During training, in Oklahoma, he threw off anyone who dared to ride him. He was clearly a stubborn horse with his own mind. Even being led by a handler, he would become impatient. During processions, he would often walk in circles, and was a handful to control.

He was used in over 1,000 funeral processions. Most notably that of John F. Kennedy. November 22, 1963, was a day that shocked a nation. It was the day United States citizens heard that their president had been shot. Former President Nixon said this of Black Jack, "Black Jack has been a poignant symbol of our Nation's grief for many years. Citizens in mourning felt dignity and purpose conveyed, a simpler but deeper tribute to the memory of those heroic 'riders' who have given so much for our nation. Our people are grateful to Black Jack for helping us bear the burden of sorrow during difficult times". 

Black Jack's handlers changed every eighteen months. Because of Black Jack's temperament, it was often difficult to find someone suitable who could handle him. Pete Duda was Black Jack's favorite handler. Duda, though reluctant to ride Black Jack, was fully committed to the horse's care and would not let anyone near him.  

Black Jack would go on to serve for 24 more years. He died on February 6th, 1976 in Oklahoma. 

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