Tommy the horse failed to measure up in the United States Army, but it was nothing to do with his performance.
Tommy, it transpires, was simply too short. He did not grow as tall as expected, standing noticeably shorter than the other horses in the unit.
This would not normally be a problem, but his caisson (ammunitions) unit at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, performed a lot of ceremonial work, turning out for more than 100 military funerals a year.
Just like their human counterparts, the horses in the unit need to be of similar heights.
Tommy, described by members of the unit as a great horse to ride, simply did not grow to the same height as the other horses. While none of them are pure bred, the dominant breed in the unit is percheron – draft horses developed in northern France known for their size and strength.
Short he may have been, but Tommy was still a favorite of the soldiers and they set out to find him a new home.
When the decision was made to let Tommy go, DLA Disposition Services at San Antonio was contacted. David Craft, a disposal services representative there, said the organization uses its website to advertise horses like Tommy to potential owners.
Tommy was placed on the website with photos and a brief description.
Craft said staff members Mary Rocha and Cindy Gutierrez helped find Tommy a new home. In the end, the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona acquired Tommy.
Tommy was on the website for only 30 days when the sheriff’s office picked him up.
An experienced horse handler must be present when a horse is loaded on to a customer’s trailer, Craft said. This helps ensure the safety of the horse and the people involved.
The Fort Sam Houston caisson soldiers were present when Chief Deputy Leon Wilmot took Tommy to his new home.
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office has several certified officers and posse members who are trained to use equines for security, patrols, parades, special details and riot control, Wilmot said.
“All of the officers and sheriff’s posse members have to fund their own equipment and maintain our own equines,” he said. “Tommy is owned by the sheriff’s office and assigned to me as my designated mount.”
Tommy will have his work cut out for him in his new role. At 5522 square miles, Yuma County is larger than the state of Connecticut. The county is bordered by California to the west and Mexico to the south.
While Tommy may have been too small for his army mission, Wilmot said his new steed is a little larger than the other horses his office has, but he is fitting in with the others.
“I have been training him every week, and he has been a great mount,” said Wilmot, who took possession of Tommy in December.
Early in April, Tommy participated in his first formal posse training with a group of 12 horses.
Wilmot confessed he was a little leery of a free horse he found online. But after a little investigating, he contacted the caisson unit at Fort Sam Houston.
“Once I talked with the handlers and understood what kind of training he had, as far as doing ceremonial work, which the posse also participates in for a law enforcement memorial every year, I figured he would be perfect for our work down here in Yuma,” Wilmot said.
Tommy’s first patrol was at the Yuma County Fair in early April.
The posse patrolled the parking lots there.
Wilmot said the patrols dramatically reduce vehicle burglaries and other offenses that take place in parking lots. He said Tommy did a great job, interacted with the crowd, and allowed children to come up to him.
With his first patrol behind him, Tommy’s training will now focus on other aspects of the posse’s mission, such as searching for missing people in the Arizona desert and supporting crowd-control efforts.
Wilmot explained what Tommy’s first training event after the fair was like.
“We did a lot of sensory training with waving flags, going around a truck with lights and siren going off, around road flares, walking over a blue tarp on the ground, kids waving pool noodles at him, [and] spraying them with silly string while riding by. He did great and is a real quick learner.”