Troopers Instruct Iraqi Horse Handlers
Story & Photos by Staff Sgt. Susan German
a member of the 122nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

BAGHDAD, Iraq (Army News Service) – Trading computers and badges for saddles and spurs has provided a welcome break for troopers of the 1st Cavalry Division’s Horse Cavalry Detachment working with Saddam Hussein’s former horses at the Baghdad Zoo.

After months of desk duty guarding the division main headquarters building, the Soldiers recently had the opportunity to get back in the saddle, while also educating some Iraqi horse handlers about care and training techniques.

Before their deployment to Iraq, detachment Soldiers spent their time performing at parades, rodeos and fairs throughout the United States. Daily duties included maintaining their herd of horses and mules, and equipment required for their performances. Some of the Soldiers are also trained saddle makers, farriers (horse shoe tradesmen), boot makers and veterinarian technicians.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bussell, Headquarters deputy commandant, 1st Cavalry Division, is the platoon sergeant and saddle maker for the detachment back at Fort Hood. Experience gained while growing up around horses on his grandparents’ farm in eastern Texas coupled with his time at Fort Hood lends credence to the advice he passes on to the Iraqi veterinarians and caretakers. Because the horses belong to the state, it’s up to the Iraqis to make the decisions on their care and handling, Bussell said.

“There’s a lack of knowledge on some of the modern equine skills, such as medications, training techniques and doctrine that can be used for the animals,” Bussell said. “We’re trying to get them as much information as we can to make a better future for the animals and the people here.”

At one time the horses numbered nearly 100, but traumatized by war, their numbers have dwindled. The remaining horses were gathered up after the war was over, according to Bussell, and 19 now reside at the zoo.

Veterinarian Wasseem Wali has worked at the zoo for a year and with the Americans for the past six or seven months. Although his specialty is caring for the lions which also live at the zoo, he is learning about horses, and even pitches in to assist the stable help when necessary.
The horses were originally stabled at Camp Victory, with subsequent moves to Abu Ghraib, the University of Baghdad and their most recent home, the zoo. While a horse is not your typical zoo animal, Saddam’s former horses are biding their time surrounded by more common zoo inhabitants like camels and ostriches, until the time when more appropriate facilities can be built for them.

Long term plans include building a 100-stall stable, an exercise area and an equine education center in Baghdad.

“After these [new stables] are built, the situation will change for the better,” Wali said. “I think the future will be good.”

The Iraqis pored over several horse-themed magazines that Bussell brought with him, pointing at pictures of horses and equipment that interested them. Pictures are good when a language barrier impedes communication.

Detachment Soldiers make the trip to the zoo several times a week and are getting to know the horses better. “Because there is a language barrier, it’s best sometimes that we just get hands on for ourselves – throw a saddle on them, get on and find out what level they’ve been put through,” Bussell said. On this particular trip, they brought along a saddle and bridle. Being able to ride the horses was an added bonus, an activity they hadn’t enjoyed since being deployed earlier this year.

On a smaller scale, but one that will add to the horses’ safety and comfort, detachment Soldiers have built one of several planned pens for two stallions previously tied up to trees in order to keep them separated.

Maad Amer Mohammad, manager of the original Genetic Arab Horses Generating Center, has worked in the center for over ten years and wants to see an increase in the number of horses.

“By doing that, we can help other animal educators have horses with original Arab characteristics, especially the male horses [to pass on the Arabian genes],” Mohammad said.

The Soldiers voiced their praise for a dappled gray stallion named Al-Adul, describing him as beautiful, strong and magnificent – a good horse for breeding purposes. The Iraqis preferred a smaller stallion, which carried the traditional Arabian characteristics, including a narrow dished face, to breed for traditional Arab features.

“The horses are important to the Iraqi people, especially Arabic horses,” Wali said. “Their history is with the Arabic people.”

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