They say the custom dates back to the time of Genghis Khan – the riderless horse led to the burial place of its fallen warrior to soon after be sacrificed and eaten in his honor – when it was believed that a horse was useless without its warrior companion.
Things have changed over time in obvious ways, but the sentiment behind the riderless horse remains constant.
Today, the solemn practice of leading the horse with no rider, known as a “caparisoned horse,” is reserved for extraordinary people during their funeral procession, a moving tribute to a great life that has passed on to death.
On each side a boot, traditionally of the deceased, is placed in the stirrup facing backwards, symbolizing the fallen rider’s last look back on life before riding into the afterlife.
Going back in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be honored by the cap horse, which was President Lincoln’s personal horse, Old Bob.
The cap horse is truly a poignant sight to behold, the vision of a horse that must go on without its rider.
This Memorial Day in Mattapoisett, parade watchers will witness Mattapoisett’s first caparisoned horse in recallable Mattapoisett history make its way through the village dressed in a traditional black saddle and pulled by Cheryl Randall Mach in honor of our fallen heroes.
The brown and cream ‘Honey,’ Mach’s registered paint horse, has been practicing for weeks for her first caparisoned horse procession slated for Monday.
“This is our first time doing this, thanks to Dad,” said Mach. Her father is George Randall, a Mattapoisett veteran and member of the Florence Eastman American Legion Post 280. He suggested to Mach that she participate with Honey in the parade to help draw attention to the Legion.
With only a week until show time, on Sunday, May 22, Mach readied Honey outside her stall for a dress rehearsal with the boots of Mach’s grandfather, Arthur C. Lewis, a member of the cavalry in WWI, securely mounted in the stirrups and a shiny silver cavalry sword hanging on her side.
“He taught us how to ride military style,” said Mach, recalling time spent with “Grandpa Lewis” when she and her sister were little. “At his farm in East Longmeadow, he would drill us.”
Mach said Honey had previously attended a police horse training to get her used to sirens and noise including barking dogs, and diversions like smoke and other obstacles. She said she has been quite the spectacle in her neighborhood these days, walking Honey up and down Chapel Road where Honey’s home is at Peacock Farm. But practice makes perfect, and Mach wants to be sure Honey is confidant on the big day.
“A sword hanging off your side isn’t normal for horses these days,” said Mach. “Not like they used to.”
Cap horses, Mach said, have traditionally been darker horses, but these days more people are using horses of all different colors and breeds.
“This was really all Dad’s idea,” said Mach.
Randall said the legion is having a hard time recruiting new members and he worries about the future of Post 280.
“We really got to try to keep the legion going,” said Randall.
See Honey on Monday, May 30, in the Florence Eastman American Legion Post 280 Memorial Day ceremony and parade at 1:30 pm at the Mattapoisett Library.
Mattapoisett resident Richard Langhoff, retired professional engineer, is the guest speaker of the pre-parade service. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Vietnam War era veteran, Langhoff trained as a U.S. Air Force pilot through the Aviation Cadet Program, while also training as a navigator. He served in the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing of the Tactical Air Command and holds a commercial pilot license.
Langhoff began his work career at age 17 as a technician at Westinghouse Electric’s Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory, builders of the nuclear reactors in the first nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus, as well as the world’s first commercial nuclear power station and first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise.
While at Bettis, he attended college, interrupting his education to enlist in the Air Force. After graduating with a degree in metallurgical engineering, he worked as a metallurgist for several companies.
In 2002, he retired from Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, Rhode Island as a principal systems engineer. He is now a part-time school bus driver and part-time driver for the Mattapoisett Council on Aging.
Langhoff has been a member for over 30 years in the Florence Eastman American Legion Post 280 where he currently serves as a director and chaplain.
After the ceremony, which features the Old Hammondtown Concert Band, junior high student Luke Thomas Couto will recite of the Gettysburg Address and the New Bedford High School Junior ROTC will post the colors.
The parade will start from the library and proceed to Water Street, to the Town Wharf, on to Cushing Cemetery, and end at the Legion Hall on Depot Street where refreshments will be served to the marchers.
Rochester will hold its Memorial Day observance on Sunday, May 29, with a parade that will begin at the Town Hall at 11:30 am, march to the memorial at the intersection of Mary’s Pond Road and Route 105, and conclude around 1:00 pm.
In Marion, the parade starts at 9:00 am on Monday, May 30, at the Marion Music Hall on Front Street. The observance will start with the National Anthem and the raising of the colors.
After a brief service, the marches will organize and proceed down Main Street to Spring Street and turn right down Spring Street to the Marion Town House for the service and speakers.
The parade then proceeds north on Spring Street to Old Landing Cemetery for a service at the gravesite of Benjamin D. Cushing. After the short service, the parade continues on Route 6 east, turning right onto Ryders Lane over to Front Street and Veterans Memorial Park.
By Jean Perry