At one time, most states may have had a horse guard for the governor, but disbanded the units as horses were replaced with less dignified but more efficient forms of transportation. Indeed, the 2nd Connecticut Governor’s Horse Guard, its facility located behind the Reed Middle School in Newtown, CT, doesn’t often actually guard the governor, although the governor is commander-in-chief of the unit. Lt. Fay, one of the public information officers of the guard, explained that the guard is a non-deployable or ceremonial unit, although technically the governor could deploy them at the request of the President of the United States.
The Horse Guard has served in campaigns. They guarded the Mexican border under General Pershing and members served in France during the First World War.
Today, they have many ceremonial duties such as parades and other events where a mounted color guard is needed or expected.
Founded in October 1808, the Horse Guard has seen many changes in duties and uniforms, but none so radical as the changes in funding that have come during this recession. The guard now needs to raise money for themselves, although the state maintains the Newtown facility. A public/private partnership, spearheaded by the Friends of the Horse Guard, subsidizes the care and feeding of the guard’s 10 horses.
Karen deFriese, a former member of the guard, now an associate member and Friend, said the group took donations at the fall open house. They also take donations during the “compost drive,” when they supply organic compost to gardeners. Two trail rides each year also serve as fundraisers, she said.
In the spring, they invite people to bring their horses to an obstacle course. In the fall, the ride is more casual.
The Commandant’s Cavalcade is a big fundraiser and community activity, deFriese said. The Friends set up bleachers for a “sophisticated horse trainer and performer,” she said. “It was a kid-friendly show,” she added, “and we had a farmers market, fair and entertainment. A local radio station set up a live remote.” She said the Friends are going to do it again, probably in August 2013.
The group also does fundraising for community groups. “We are part of the community, too,” Fay said, “we live and work here.” Boy and Girl Scouts use the facility for camping, he noted.
In spite of the fact they are down from a high of 33 horses and have 38 members, the guard is always recruiting. Many members had prior military service, but it is not required.
Private Heather Wilson is in her first year on the Horse Guard, but “I’ve been hanging around here since I was a little girl.” She noted women outnumber men in the guard six to one now.
Recruit classes usually have seven or eight members because of the limited number of horses. “We don’t want to overwork them,” Wilson said.
While being a horse-crazy girl doesn’t hurt, the main reason people join the horse guard is “it’s part of Connecticut history and an opportunity to serve in a unique way in the tradition of the cavalry,” Fay said. “It’s history, horses and honor of service.”
Training for the Horse Guard is 19 weeks and the guard drills once a week, on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in winter and weekday evenings from 7 to 10 p.m. in spring, summer and fall.