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Too short for Army, horse rides high with Yuma posse
Although the horse was considered too small to be part of an Army ceremonial unit, he fits in just fine with the Yuma County Sheriff's Posse.
Chief Deputy Maj. Leon Wilmot, who acquired the horse for the Yuma County Sheriff's Office, explained the horse had once been part of the Army's caisson section at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, which uses its horses for funerals and other ceremonies. But it was noticeably shorter than the other horses in the unit.
“They got him when he was young and he didn't grow as much as expected,” said Wilmot, who is the designated rider for the horse named Tommy.
The problem, Wilmot said, is that just like their human counterparts, all of the horses in the unit need to be of similar heights. So despite being in the unit for seven years, Tommy, who stands 16 hands tall and weighs 1,330 pounds, was let go.
Wilmot said late last year he saw a listing for Tommy, which included photos and a brief description, on the Defense Logistic Agency Disposition Services website. Although he admitted that he was a little leery of a free horse, Wilmot said he finally decided to contact the caisson unit at Fort Sam Houston about acquiring him for the use by the YCSO posse.
“I spoke with (Tommy's) handlers and they said he was a great horse to ride and a favorite of some of the soldiers. Had we not got (Tommy), he would have been sold at a public auction.”
So in December, Wilmot, accompanied by another member of the sheriff's posse, took some vacation time and used his own money to travel to San Antonio to pick up Tommy and bring him back to Yuma County.
“As soon as I rode him, I knew he would be a perfect fit for what we do here. He is well trained. I was extremely impressed.”
The DLA Disposition Services manages the Department of Defense surplus property sales program. Excess property that is not reused, transferred or donated to an appropriate state or federal agency may be sold to the public.
Wilmot said the sheriff's office has been getting equipment from the DLA website for many years. “We have probably saved the county millions of dollars.”
Although Tommy is owned by the sheriff's office, he doesn't cost the taxpayers any money. Wilmot explained that all posse members are required to own their own equipment and pay the costs to feed and maintain the horses assigned to them.
Wilmot said he has trained Tommy every weekend since getting him in preparation for his first patrol. That was in early April during the Yuma County Fair, where the posse patrols the parking lots to reduce vehicle burglaries and other offenses.
“He did great. He has been a great mount,” Wilmot said of Tommy, a draft/quarter horse mix. “He interacted well with the crowds. I found out he is very good with children. He would stick his head down where they could pet him.”
With his first patrol such a success, Wilmot said Tommy's training is now focusing on other aspects of the posse's mission, such as searching for missing people in the desert, supporting crowd-control efforts, parades and other community events.
Wilmot said he has incorporated a lot of sensory-type training with Tommy, such as waving flags, going around a truck with its lights and siren going off, walking around road flares and having him sprayed with silly string while riding by.
Wilmot said his future plans include using Tommy as the riderless horse, which pays homage to those who have lost their lives, during the upcoming Law Enforcement Memorial Day.
Since Tommy was named after the fourth sergeant major of the Army, Leon L. Van Autreve, Wilmot said that out of respect, he decided not to rename the horse.
“Tommy is his nickname, and he responds to it. I thought it was important to keep his military history.”
So how much bigger is Tommy than the other horses on the posse? Wilmot said when he got him, none of the equipment from his previous horse, who retired at the age of 20, would fit Tommy. So he had to buy new gear, which cost him about $600.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.