Mustangs in the U.S. Army

By Shawn Farnsworth, Wild Horse and Burro Program Specialist, BLM Southeastern States District

Did you know that the U.S. Army still utilizes horse detachments for service today? While there is a long history of cavalry use in the U.S. Army, most cavalry units were disbanded after 1939. It was in the 1960s that the modern Army began re-establishing horse detachments, using animals for ceremonial traditions, parades, and training missions. 

Some examples of modern horse detachments include the Mounted Color Guard at Fort Carson, Colorado; Commanding Generals Mounted Color Guard in Fort Riley, Kansas; the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fort Irwin, California; First Cavalry Division Horse Detachment in Fort Hood, Texas; and the All-Volunteer Horse Detachment at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. While each of these horse detachments is unique, all still value the horse and U.S. Army traditions and many of them are using wild horses for remounts.

The presence of wild horses in the U.S. Army can be traced back to the early 1900’s when free-roaming horses from the American West were gathered to resupply the Army for the Spanish-American War and World War I. Today, the BLM works to train and supply saddle-broke horses to various U.S. Army units as part of its efforts to find good homes for animals gathered from overpopulated herds on public lands. 

U.S. Army Units have found that once a wild horse has been trained, they become some of the best horses on the team. Mustangs demonstrate their talents every year, and have become great partners to many active service soldiers. The unique bond between soldiers and mustangs is very evident – even though soldiers are only detailed for only 1-2 years. At the end of their detail, soldiers turn their horse over to another soldier and the bonding and training starts again.  

“I would love to see more mustangs at the detachments,” said Megan Zehnder, Fort Irwin Horse Trainer.  “The three we have at Fort Irwin are so good for the program.”

Fort Riley has six mustangs on their team and is working with the BLM and the Northern Nevada Correctional Center to obtain an additional 3-5 horses within the next six months. Fort Riley, Fort Carson, and Fort Irwin also want to grow their detachments with more horses. Additionally, the Army is interested in obtaining more saddle trained horses so they can begin to replace the mustangs reaching retirement. 

Man on horseback
Retired MSG USARMY, (BLM employee for the Southern States District Office [SSDO]) Shawn Farnsworth and former BLM working horse from Canon City, CO (Mr. Ripples). Farnsworth became a member and led Fort Carson Mounted color guard 10 years ago. He has come full circle with his adopted Army Mustangs and as an advocate for wild horses. His mission is to educate the public about wild horses and burros.
Cavalry on horseback and a covered wagon.
Mounted Color Guard, Fort Carson, Colorado
Mounted cavalry running on grass.
Commanding Generals Mounted Color Guard, Fort Riley, Kansas
Rider on a freeze-marked horse.
Caisson Platoon 3rd Infantry Regiment, Arlington, Virginia
Rider and horse jumping.
Fort Carson Soldier, 1st Lt. Ann Maffey, riding a 17 year-old grey mustang, Trooper Guardian (Tank). This horse was selected and trained in 2010 for the Commanding General at 4th Infantry Division and is National Cavalry Champion finalist in 2012. This horse was gathered in 2007 from the Nevada Wild Horse Range and adopted by Fort Carson.
Cavalry horse with person shooting
Fort Carson Solider SSG Luke Gibson, riding a 11 year-old bay roan, Trooper Muggs. This horse was adopted from Canon City and has participated along with all Fort Carson’s horses training 10 Special Forces in Packing and riding in preparation for deployment in Afghanistan. This horse was gathered in 2010 from Adobe Town HMA, then adopted by Fort Carson
Rider on horseback
Fort Carson Solider SGT Cedric Johnson riding a bay mustang, Trooper Rowdy. This horse was titled and then donated to the team. Rowdy was too athletic for his former adopter - he is now 19 years old and has the heart of a champion. He was a National Cavalry Champion finalist in 2012. This horse gathered in 2004 from Lahontan HMA in Nevada.
Guy on horseback shooting revolver.
Fort Irwin Soldier SPC Donaji Sandoval riding a 17-year-old grey mustang, Trooper Gunsmoke. This horse has been used to train soldiers for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq at what is called the BOX in Fort Irwin, with rotational forces that come to the National Training Center for some of the most realistic training in the world. This horse was gathered in 2009 from Bald Mountain HMA in Nevada and adopted by Fort Irwin.
Rider and horse jumping.
Fort Irwin Soldier, Staff Sgt. Jacob Wilson riding a 21 year-old dun mustang, Trooper Comanche (2019 Level 1 NCC champion). This horse has been used to train soldiers for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq at what is called the BOX in Fort Irwin, with rotational forces to come to the National Training Center for some of the most realistic training in the world. This horse was gathered in 2001 from Twin Peaks HMA in California.
Horses at a ceremony.
Fort Irwin Horse Detachment Commander CPT Gates and his mustang Gunsmoke accepts outstanding unit award.