One in a series of holiday-inspired destinations in co-op country.
This month: Memorial Day.
A Memorial Day destination in co-op country
by Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer
Tucked away into the equestrian history of the James E. Swart Animal Center in Front Royal, Va., are ties to a world-famous World War I warhorse, a legendary Triple Crown winner and Gen. George S. Patton’s Lipizzaner stallions, to name but a few.
On the property that today houses the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational and Conference Center, some remnants remain from the original Front Royal Remount Depot, created more than 110 years ago to supply the U.S. Army’s need for horses and mules trained for military service.
One of those military remnants is an equine dip tank used to kill external parasites. It is widely believed to be the only one remaining in the continental United States.
Conceived by the Army’s Quartermaster Corps in 1911, Front Royal was chosen as one of three national Remount Depot locations because of its proximity to Virginia horse breeders and rail transportation. The other two depots were in Ft. Reno, Okla., and Ft. Keogh, Mont.
At that time, the U.S. Army felt that although thousands of wild horses existed in western states, few were considered to be of military quality.
By the early 1900s, as automobiles began to replace horses as a primary form of transportation, breeding declined, and it became increasingly difficult for the military to procure substantial quantities of quality horses on the private market. So, they decided to start breeding their own.
“The Army acquired 5,000 acres near the Blue Ridge Mountains combining several farms and erecting a complex of buildings,” says Remount Depot Historian and Rappahannock Electric Cooperative member Phillip Gibbons. “The depot was constructed about 2 miles southeast of Front Royal, in Warren County.”
According to Gibbons, the Front Royal Remount Depot received its first six breeding stallions in 1912. Five were thoroughbreds donated by August Belmont of the New York Jockey Club and included the Hall of Fame racehorse, Henry of Navarre.
Horse owner Samuel D. Riddle donated the services of Triple Crown-winner Man O’ War, still today considered one of the greatest racehorses of all time, to the Front Royal Depot, as did scores of other prominent breeders.
In 1920, the Front Royal Quartermaster Remount Depot added the U.S. Army Horse Breeding Plan to its mission. The breeding plan began with 159 stallions and, by 1928, the depot was breeding 18,000 mares a year. By 1942, the Remount Service had registered more than 715 stallions and produced more than 230,000 foals.
Some additional well-known horses associated with the Front Royal Depot include the mare Jenny Camp. Ridden by Army Captain Earl F. Thomson in two Olympics, she remains one of only three horses to win consecutive individual medals. Gen. “Blackjack” Pershing’s world-famous warhorse, Kidron, was also retired to the depot at the age of 36.
The German Lipizzaner stallions that Patton rescued at the end of World War II were also among 143 German POW horses quarantined at Front Royal upon their arrival in America.
“The use of horses by the U.S. military was being rapidly phased out by the time we entered into World War II and the emphasis shifted to mules,” says Gibbons.
Thousands of mules were sent to Front Royal to be conditioned and trained, then shipped by train to Newport News to be placed on transport ships bound for European theaters of war.
With the decline of overall equine use in the military, the Remount offices were closed in 1948, and the breeding program transferred to the Department of Agriculture, along with the depots, equipment and breeding stock.
The Agriculture Department liquidated the program the following year and all stocks were sold at public auction. “Although no longer trained in Front Royal, mules are still trained and used by the military today for mountain warfare,” says Gibbons.
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Getting the Royal Treatment
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