Alton farmer’s horses serving their country

Robert Mouw works with two horses on his farm near Alton, Iowa. The horses, Major and Ted, will join 18 other horses from Mouw’s farm that currently are at Arlington National Cemetery where they are used by the Army during funerals.

ALTON, Iowa — Robert Mouw’s patriotism and love of horses have combined to lead the Sioux County farmer to a unique way of honoring America’s veterans and others who have served their country.

Mouw, who has a small farm near Alton, has been supplying horses to the U.S. Army to use in funeral ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery since 1999.

The horses are a mixed breed, said Mouw. “The ones that go to Arlington National Cemetery are basically a half-blood draft. They’re mostly Percheron. These are horses that weigh 1,250 to 1,400 pounds and stand around 16 hands high.”

The height of a horse is measured from the ground to the withers, which is the base of the neck. When measuring a horse, one hand equals 4 inches.

Mouw got into the business of selling horses to Arlington through a friend, an Orange City veterinarian.

“He had some contacts with the people in Arlington because he went to do some work for them,” explained Mouw. “And at that time a lot of their horses were very old and unfit. They said they couldn’t find the right type of horse and I told them I might be able to help them.”

In February 1999, Mouw and his wife Shirley went to Arlington to see how the horses were used and what type and size the Army needed. That July Mouw delivered his first horses to Arlington.

“I’ve been there about once a year ever since,” he said.

Although there are two other individuals who occasionally supply horses for use at Arlington — one in Indiana and one in Texas — Mouw said he provides the most of them. When he delivers three next month, more than half of those now at Arlington will have come from his farm.

Mouw buys horses, then brings them to his farm. In years past Mouw bred draft horses, but said there are some problems that will probably keep him from doing that with the Arlington horses.

“It takes a lot more time,” Mouw said. “And the problem with breeding is that you will have a certain amount of them that for some reason are unfit. You don’t have to buy a horse like that, but if you’re breeding them, he’s yours.”

The Arlington National Cemetery horses are used by the Army’s Caisson Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) based at Fort Myer, Vrginia. During a funeral procession, Mouw said, six horses are harnessed together in three pairs and pull a black artillery caisson carrying a flag-draped casket. The left horse of each pair has a saddle and rider. To the left front of the lead team, on a separate mount, rides the section chief who commands the caisson unit.

“This is the way they’ve moved artillery ever since the Civil War,” Mouw said. “They do an average of six horse-drawn funerals a day at Arlington.”

When former South Dakota Governor and war hero Joe Foss was buried in Arlington earlier this year, four out of the six horses used in the funeral possession came from Mouw’s farm.

The riders wear the Army dress blue uniform with riding breeches, and boots with spurs. In addition to their duties in military funerals, the Caisson Platoon sometimes participates in historic pageants performed by The Old Guard.

The horses Mouw buys for use by the Army are saddle broke but he trains them to get them used to the special six-horse harness.

“I sell them to the Army trained the way they’re going to be used,” Mouw said. “When I buy them, I make sure they’re broke to ride and then get them to drive in the normal way. Then we put the two together.”

Mouw said that after the horses arrive at Arlington, they go through one more month of training before they are used in an actual funeral.

The horses at Arlington are normally used about eight to 10 years and then are retired. Mouw said the Army doesn’t sell them after they are retired but instead gives them to agencies such as local police departments for use in crowd control. The average lifespan of a horse is about 21 years, said Mouw.

When not working with his horses Mouw travels the area and trims hooves on dairy cattle.

“That takes up about two-thirds of my time,” he said. While he’s traveling he looks for horses that might qualify for use at Arlington.

Mouw said he’s proud to have his horses at Arlington and be a part of the ceremony that honors veterans and others who have served their country.

“It’s quite an honor to me,” Mouw said. “I’m a veteran and a horseman and it’s probably as high an honor as you can get. Plus they’re very happy with my horses and that’s always good to hear.”

Mouw, who served in the Army from 1971 to 1972 was stationed in the DMZ in Korea, gets help raising and training horses from his family including two grandsons, Taylor, 9, and Nathaniel, 12.

“Taylor rode Major (one of three horses ready to go to Arlington next month) this summer,” Mouw said. “Nathaniel has helped me for the past two years in the summer and he’s a pretty good horseman.”

Along with the horses he provides to the Army, Mouw also has draft horses that he uses to farm about 25 acres.


Robert Mouw works with two horses on his farm near Alton, Iowa.
The horses, Major and Ted, will join 18 other horses from Mouw’s farm that currently are at
Arlington National Cemetery where they are used by the Army during funerals.

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