Prisoner-trained horses join Marine color guard
November 8, 2012
The United States Marine Corps doesn’t take just any horses for its mounted color guard: Palominos, 15-16 hands high, often studs, which will be turned into geldings.When Sergeant Daren Cole came to pick out the horses, the third week in January, he was looking for something rather rare. Palominos make up a very small percentage of U.S. Bureau of Land Management horses gathered.“That narrows it down,” Cole said.Cole and two of his fellow mounted color guard Marines picked up two new horses for their stables Wednesday morning after signing the adoption papers. The Marine Corps paid the standard adoption fee, $125.The horses will get an additional six months to a year of training, on top of the eight months they received at the correctional center, being trained by inmates.Once the horses are comfortable, they will be used in the major events the color guard attends.“We’ve got to make sure we’re secure putting the horse in front of thousands of people,” Cole said. “It’s a trust issue on both sides.”The horses must get used to the sights, the smells, the sounds and everything else that goes on at major events. That is where the training comes in, although it can only go so far. Guns shoot blanks near the horses while a rider controls him, fire trucks and police cars blare their sirens and ATVs ride near them.“You can’t recreate the cheer of 70,000 people,” Cole said. “You have to know you can still control the horse.”Being on the road more than 200 days a year means less training for the horses. But when they are back at the stables, it’s a routine of feeding, grooming, riding and “doing everything to get ready to be on the road.”All of the color guard horses are former BLM horses, although only two of the 10 are not from Nevada. With six members of the color guard, it leaves ample room to switch out horses for which situations they do best in, Cole said.Cole loves horses. He said he was literally raised on horses in the White Mountains of Arizona. Cole has the pictures to prove it: him on a horse at 3 months old. Between his brother, father and himself, they have 27 horses of their own.Cole did not join the Marines thinking he would be on a horse. He “got tired of turning wrenches” and decided to sign up, eventually becoming a satellite communications electronics technician. When he saw a Marine Corps horse trailer drive by, he knew what he wanted to be the one riding horses for the Marines.“I said, if the Marine Corps has horses, I want to ride them,” he said.Cole did not have an easy path to get into the color guard, although, at 2 and a half years into his special duty, he’s working his dream job.“I had to fight, kick and yell to get in here,” he said.Jacob Lidster, ‘58 Ford’s trainer, loaded his horse of 8 months into the horse trailer, followed by a horse the Marines are transporting for the border patrol.‘58 Ford has been a gentle horse the whole eight months, sans his first two days of training, Lidster said. It took him until his third day of working with the horse before he could sneak up and jump on the gelding.“He’s super gentle. He wants a friend. He will be a great companion,” he said.Cole looked at the horses in the trailer, their heads sticking out the windows.“There’s the next generation,” he said, before he and the other two Marines drove them out of the facility and to their new stables in California.