The Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard lost a friend and companion Aug. 16. The unit hosted a memorial service Aug. 23 for Gunner, a 13-year-old training horse who died after complications from colic.
Gunner is only the second horse to pass away in the care of the CGMCG in the organization's 21-year history, said Capt. Casey Wolfe, CGMCG commander.
Gunner, a registered German/Arabian Warmblood, Bay Gelding, was foaled March 12, 2000, in Omaha, Neb. He joined the CGMCG on Dec. 15, 2004. Gunner taught many troopers how to ride and was known for his stamina and endurance, Spc. Cody Abshire said during the memorial.
"It is for that reason Gunner was very popular with all of the troopers," he said. "If a trooper was having a bad time on one horse, their whole day changed as soon as they got on Gunner."
Though Gunner was a training horse, he wasn't necessarily a pleasure to ride, Wolfe said with a smile.
"He had a rough and choppy trot, and it was said that if you could stay on Gunner, you could stay on any horse," he said.
Gunner served as an ambassador of the mounted unit, carrying many visitors on his back during staff and trail rides. Gunner would never quit and could out endure every horse and rider on the team, Abshire said.
Most horses only have one or two riders in their lifetimes, Wolfe said, but because of the nature of the organization, that does not happen at the CGMCG.
"Gunner's breeding endowed him with a unique set of skills that required a unique rider to harness his talent outside of the training pit," Wolfe said. "Since his arrival in 2004, many riders have come and gone, but it was not until recently that Gunner found the right rider in Trooper Spc. Sasha Deas."
Deas, a member of the CGMCG since February, slowly and patiently worked with Gunner to refine him and reveal his talents to the public, Wolfe said.
Gunner was Deas' favorite horse, she said.
"He always kept me on my toes," she said. "He made mistakes, but so did I. You see, the thing about horses is that when they make a mistake or act up, you can't just quit on them and stop riding them for weeks at a time. How will they ever excel in their weaknesses?"
They won't, Deas went on to say. A rider and horse must form a bond and work together as a team.
"Once that horse knows you're there for them, they will give you their whole heart," Deas said. "Gunner was that horse for me. He was super flighty in the beginning, but I would never give up on him in a million years. I saw so much potential for him, and he was the sweetest boy anyone could ask for. He always had my back, and I always had his."
While tanks and humvees have bumper numbers, Gunner and his fellow mounts have names, hearts and personalities that set them apart from the rest of the items that accompany them on the government property books, Wolfe said.
The CGMCG also paid tribute during the memorial to retired Maj. Donovan D. Ketzler Sr.
Ketzler, one of the last mounted cavalrymen from World War II, was born in Wichita on Jan. 7, 1924. He began his military service in 1942 at Fort Riley.
After the war, he returned to his Family's boot-making business in Nebraska and continued serving in the Army Reserves. That company made many of the cavalry boots the CGMCG troopers wear today, Wolfe said.
Ketzler was a lot like Gunner in terms of stamina, Wolfe said. Even at the age of 89, he rode horses daily with the skill of troopers 60 years his junior.
"I mention all of this because the day the cavalry lost Gunner was also the day the cavalry lost Maj. Ketzler," Wolfe said.
Ketzler died Aug. 16 – the same day as the horse he introduced to the CGMCG's civilian trainer, Ron Roller, in the fall of 2004.
"I can't help but think that Gunner and Maj. Ketzler are up there now in Fiddler's Green, raising all sorts of cane," Wolfe said.
Ketzler was laid to rest Aug. 20 in Omaha. Gunner's remains are at the CGMCG stables on Main Post.