I love animals whether they walk, fly, hop, slither, swim, run, or trot…
As a young person growing up along the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon, one of my very finest memories is riding horses along the beaches of Hutchinson Island. My friend Michelle White whose father still lives on McArthur Boulevard, had horses at their ranch in Palm City and would often bring them to —keeping them under the shade at the “beach house.” Michelle and I would get up at the crack of dawn and ride these horses bareback along the beach. It was wondrous. Obviously, the laws were not as restrictive then. We even got our picture in the Stuart News!
Today, I will share a story sent to me by blog reader Stan Field, A.K.A. Anthony Stevens who is a professional writer who lives in Rio and friend of my family.
When he sent me this excerpt about the beach horses of WWII, I wrote back: “I do hope none of the horses were hurt jumping off the Jensen Beach Bridge.” He assured me all were fine. Here is his amazing story:
Horse Patrols on Hutchinson Island
“Early in the war, it was decided that they needed to maintain regular patrols of the Atlantic beaches. Someone in Washington thought that horse patrols would be a good idea.
“In September 1942, horses were authorized for use by the beach patrol. The mounted portion of the patrol soon became the largest segment of the patrol. For example, one year after orders were given to use horses, there were 3,222 of the animals assigned to the Coast Guard. All came from the Army. The Army Remount Service provided all the riding gear required, while the Coast Guard provided the uniforms for the riders. A call went out for personnel and a mixed bag of people responded. Polo players, cowboys, former sheriffs, horse trainers, Army Reserve cavalrymen, jockeys, farm boys, rodeo riders and stunt men applied. Much of the mounted training took place at Elkins Park Training Station and Hilton Head, the sites of the dog training schools.” – US Coast Guard
One of these horse patrols groups was stationed on Hutchinson Island. What is not generally mentioned is one of those horrible snafus that always happen during wartime.
Well, they arranged for a large herd of horses to be delivered by the Florida East Coast Railroad and a corral and stables was built on Hutchinson Island, near the old wooden bridge in Jensen. Seaman from the Coast Guard base in Fort Pierce would be stationed there and at the House of Refuge and they would patrol the entire island.
Now since there were no roads on the island from Jensen north, this seemed like a great idea. The soft sand was murder on jeeps and mounted riders would be able to cut around swampy areas and investigate in the woods, if needed.
They asked for volunteers for the first herd and there was only one real cowboy in the base. There were only a few more who had pleasure riding experience.
Well, everyone was pretty excited when the big day came and several railroad cars were delivered to the siding just north of Jensen Beach Blvd. A temporary corral had been built there to hold them for inventory and basic tack was in the back of trucks, ready to mount the animals and ride them over to their permanent duty station, on the island.
There was an immediate problem when they opened the doors, however. In its infinite wisdom, the Government had decided that purchasing trained horses was too expensive. And since a lot of wild horses lived for free on Government land out west, they just rounded up a herd of wild ones, packed them onto cattle cars and shipped them to Jensen. Not one of them had ever been in close contact with a man before… much less a saddle.
Riding them to the island was out of the question. So the one loan cowpoke arranged a ‘drive’ and the entire community was drafted into helping with the operation.
Well, things seemed to be going pretty well, until they got to the old wooden bridge that led to the island. This was more than a mile and a quarter long, two narrow lanes wide and the decking has ½” gaps between each plank. The horses did NOT want to cross it!
About half of them were driven over by the shoving, shouting crowds behind. The other half jumped the sides of the bridge and the banks of the Indian River and swam for freedom. Most of the next couple of days was spent with the Pitchfords and other boat owners chasing them around the river and running them down on land. Eventually they all made it to the island and the serious breaking and training started.
The one loan cowhand and the base officers appealed to the locals for help once more and older cowhands, both male and female, volunteered to teach the Coast Guard people how to break and train the wild herd.
There is not a lot of information available on the mounted patrols of World War II. They did setup training facilities in Hilton Head, SC.” —-written by Anthony Stevens, in a letter to JTL August, 2015
Wow. Can you imagine all those poor horses jumping off the bridge into the Indian River Lagoon? Crazy! And wild ones at that. Wonder what happened to them all after the war?
Well today horses are allowed on the beaches in St Lucie County and horseback riding is a very popular and extremely well rated experience. When my husband Ed flys the cub looking for pollution plumes in the Indian River Lagoon and area inlets, he often sees horseback riders from his plane. There is some romance left in the world…
—–Right here along the Indian River Lagoon…I wonder if any of those horses’ ancestors patrolled the beach? If only a horse could talk!
Beach Tours on Horseback: (http://www.beachtoursonhorseback.com)
US Coast Guard: (http://wow.uscgaux.info/content.php?unit=070-05-08&category=1334262365)
Cool blogs on horses and dogs used in WWII: (K9 http://www.k9history.com/WWII-uscg-beach-patrols.htm)
4 thoughts on “The WWII Beach Horses of the Indian River Lagoon, Yesterday and Today, SLR/IRL”
holy crap – the horse pic of u and michelle is amazing! I can’t believe it!
It was an amazing time
Awesome Story! Did you ever write about the torpedoed boats?
no but good idea! not many left to tell the stories….