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The riderless horse named Sergeant York, during the funeral procession for the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, with President Reagan's boots reversed in the stirrups.

A riderless horse or caparisoned horse (in reference to its ornamental coverings, which have a detailed protocol of their own) is a single horse, without a rider, and with boots reversed in the stirrups, which sometimes accompanies a funeral procession. The horse follows the caisson carrying the casket.[1] A riderless horse can also be featured in military parades to symbolize fallen soldiers. In Australia for example, it is traditional for a riderless horse known as the 'Lone Charger' to lead the annual Anzac Day marches.[2]


The custom is believed to date back to the time of Genghis Khan, when a horse was sacrificed to serve the fallen warrior in the next world. The caparisoned horse later came to symbolize a warrior who would ride no more. Others suggest that this tradition hailed from over a thousand years before Genghis Khan, when the Afghan people represented the Buddha as a riderless horse.[3]

In the United States, the caparisoned horse is part of the military honors given to an Army or Marine Corps officer who was a colonel or above; this includes the President, by virtue of having been the country's commander in chief and the Secretary of Defense, having overseen the armed forces. Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the United States to be officially honored by the inclusion of the caparisoned horse in his funeral cortege,[1] although a letter from George Washington's personal secretary recorded the president's horse was part of the president's funeral, carrying his saddle, pistols, and holsters.[4] Traditionally, simple black riding boots are reversed in the stirrups to represent a fallen leader looking back on his troops for the last time.

Notable horses

Old Bob

In 1865, Abraham Lincoln was honored by the inclusion of a caparisoned horse at his funeral. When Lincoln's funeral train reached Springfield Illinois his horse Old Bob, who was draped in a black mourning blanket, followed the procession and led mourners to Lincoln's burial spot.[5]

Black Jack

Black Jack in John F. Kennedy's funeral procession

A notable riderless horse was "Black Jack," a half-Morgan named for General of the Armies John "Black Jack" Pershing. Black Jack took part in the state funerals of Presidents John F. Kennedy (1963),[6] Herbert Hoover (1964), and Lyndon Johnson (1973), and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur (1964).[7][8]

Black Jack was foaled January 19, 1947, and came to Fort Myer from Fort Reno, Oklahoma, on November 22, 1952. Black Jack was the last of the Quartermaster-issue horses branded with the Army's U.S. brand (on the left shoulder) and his Army serial number 2V56 (on the left side of his neck). He died on February 6, 1976, and was buried on the parade ground of Fort Myer's Summerall Field with full military honors, one of only two US Army horses to be given that honor.[9]

Sergeant York

"Sergeant York" was formerly known as "Allaboard Jules", a racing standardbred gelding. He was renamed (in honor of famous WWI soldier Alvin C. York) when he was accepted into the military in 1997. He served as the riderless horse in President Ronald Reagan's funeral procession, walking behind the caisson bearing Reagan's flag-draped casket.[10]

He was foaled in 1991, sired by Royce and out of the mare Amtrak Collins sired by Computer. He is a descendant of the great standardbred racing stallions Albatross, Tar Heel and Adios.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Customs of Military Funerals Reflect History, Tradition". United States Department of Defence American Forces Press Service. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  2. "The lone charger". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  3. "Riderless horse adds poignancy to military burials". May 23, 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2010. 
  4. "Arlington’s Ceremonial Horses and Funerals at the White House". White House Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  5. Knuckle, Robert (2002). Black Jack: America's famous riderless horse. General Store Publishing House. p. 4. ISBN 1-894263-65-0, 9781894263658. 
  6. "The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921–1969 – Chapter 23 – The Last Salute". 24 May 2005. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  7. "The Old Guard — Caisson Platoon". Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  8. Barakat, Matthew, "Riderless horse will symbolize the nation's mourning", Daily Breeze, Torrance, California, Jun 9, 2004. pg. A.10.
  9. Belcher, Nancy Hoyt, "Arlington Cemetery, Fort Myer pay homage to the military", The Record, Bergen County, N.J.: Apr 6, 2003. pg. T.03.
  10. "Sgt. York's Solemn Trek". Daily News. New York. 

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