Horses at the front­line

In life, these horses re-en­acted the Civil War. In death, they rest in an un­usual Mis­souri ceme­tery.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Pets - By DENISE HOLLINSHED

AS TERRY Crow­der walks past the sim­ple white crosses in this un­usual ceme­tery in Span­ish Lake, Mis­souri, the United States, he can re­mem­ber each of the fallen: 16 horses that have rid­den into bat­tle with Crow­der and other Civil War re-en­ac­tors, fake though the bat­tles were.

On a brisk fall day, Crow­der, 70, rem­i­nisced about Beau, an ex­cep­tional horse he bought for a bar­gain price be­cause he was stub­born and hard to break. It took Crow­der two years to tame him enough to put a sad­dle on his back. Af­ter that, Beau car­ried Crow­der in count­less Amer­i­can Civil War re-en­act­ments and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes.

Beau loved kids – and gun­fire. Most horses fear the noise and are dif­fi­cult to train for re-en­act­ments that in­clude gun­shots, can­non fire and ex­plo­sions. But not Beau.

“When he would hear it, he rode to­wards it,” Crow­der said of the beloved horse that died five years ago at 29. “He be­came the best horse I ever had . ... When he died, it broke my heart.

“There is a story with ev­ery sin­gle horse here,” Crow­der said, his eyes glis­ten­ing.

The horse ceme­tery is on a small part of 15.3ha at 12000 La­ri­more Road, and is shared with 14 liv­ing horses that roam and oc­ca­sion­ally es­cape from the Span­ish Lake prop­erty. The farm was Crow­der’s but is now owned by the Cavalry Brigade of the First Fed­eral Divi­sion, a Civil War re-en­act­ment group. Crow­der is chair­man of the board.

The an­i­mals on the prop­erty be­long to mem­bers of the Cavalry Brigade or have been turned over to the brigade it­self. A few are younger horses train­ing to be­come warhorse re-en­ac­tors. Many are older an­i­mals liv­ing out their golden years.

The Cavalry Brigade is a non-profit that con­sid­ers it­self an ed­u­ca­tional liv­ing his­tory or­gan­i­sa­tion. Mem­bers teach his­tory along with re­spon­si­bil­ity and man­ners to young­sters. They dress in his­toric uni­forms and show off equip­ment from the time. The group also works with spe­cial needs chil­dren and vet­er­ans.

“We ex­plain what sol­diers did in the Civil War and how our coun­try be­came what it is to­day,” Crow­der said.

The Cavalry Brigade holds Civil War re-en­act­ments, some­times on a grand scale. From April 11-14, it will be part of a huge re-en­act­ment at Pyra­mid State Recre­ation Area near Pinck­neyville, Illi­nois.

Thou­sands of re-en­ac­tors with at least 60 can­nons and plenty of horses will camp and “fight” for four days, like sol­diers did more than 150 years ago.

Mem­bers also travel with their horses to area schools and events to teach about the Civil War. They use the Span­ish Lake prop­erty and a two-storey brick house there, built as the war was wind­ing down in 1865, for ed­u­ca­tional pro­grammes as well.

The horses are some­times tapped to ap­pear in movies, such as the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War film The Pa­triot, the Civil War film Glory, the post-apoc­a­lyp­tic movie The Post­man and the Custer minis­eries Son Of The Morn­ing Star. The an­i­mals count Mel Gib­son, Den­zel Washington and Kevin Cost­ner as co-stars.

Crow­der stops in front of a marker with the name “Lady” writ­ten on a white cross.

“This one here, she was one of my very best horses,” he said. “She pulled a buggy with the can­non on it . ... She did pa­rades. And, I don’t know, hun­dreds and hun­dreds of kids learned to ride on her. She was as gen­tle as a kit­ten.”

The horse, a “beau­ti­ful white mare”, was eu­thanised af­ter she was di­ag­nosed with cancer.

Crow­der has been work­ing with the horses for decades, and be­gan bury­ing them on the farm in the 1980s. He has pic­tures of ev­ery horse buried at the site. Though he says it can be heart-wrench­ing to see the crosses and re­mem­ber the horses he’s lost, he said it’s the right thing to do.

“I should never have started bury­ing them, but once they came here they be­came part of our fam­ily,” he said. “That is what this prop­erty is about. They are like my fam­ily, my friends. It’s been that way over 30 years.”

When a horse dies, group mem­bers use an ex­ca­va­tor or back­hoe to dig a large hole, then place a favourite blan­ket or hal­ter in the grave with the an­i­mal.

“We re­flect on the mem­o­ries they gave us,” Crow­der said. “An­i­mals play a big part in peo­ple’s lives. To throw them away just doesn’t seem fair to us.”

Linda Miller of St Charles be­gan vol­un­teer­ing with Cavalry Brigade while griev­ing sev­eral per­sonal losses in her life and had no in­ten­tion of form­ing ties with an an­i­mal. Then she met Lit­tle Joe, a two-yearold gelded quar­ter horse that had been res­cued from an owner un­able to care for him.

“Joe was a phe­nom­e­nal horse,” she said. He trav­elled across the coun­try to Civil War re-en­act­ments, “stood next to live can­non fire, and whin­nied ev­ery morn­ing when I came out of the tent. He was a brave young horse.”

In 2012, Crow­der found him dead in a field at five years old.

“It killed me,” Miller said. “I was done. If you ever had a horse die, it’s dev­as­tat­ing. I’m hum­bled and hon­oured by them. When some­thing hap­pens like that, it’s dev­as­tat­ing.”

Miller didn’t think she would be able to re­turn to the barn, but she knew the other horses needed her.

“I came back ev­ery day be­cause Joe’s grave is there,” she said. “I sat with him and stayed be­cause of the other horses.”

De­spite the loss of Joe, Miller said work­ing with the horses on the farm gives her peace. Crow­der gave her an­other quar­ter horse, named Jax, and she’s stuck with him since 2012.

“It’s my so­lace, my refuge,” she said. “It is my life­line.”

Care­taker Crow­der (right) and a worker walk­ing through the horse burial site af­ter feed­ing horses at the Divi­sion Cavalry Brigade Barn in Span­ish Lake, Mis­souri, the United States.

Crow­der with an old pic­ture of him­self and his then 10-year-old son Zachary, when both of them par­tic­i­pated in a Civil War re-en­act­ment.

Two of the grave mark­ers for horses buried at the Divi­sion Cavalry Brigade Barn in Span­ish Lake. Lady was one of Crow­der’s very best horses.

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