Leaping through rings of fire, then bowing shamelessly for applause, the celebrated jumping horse “Whiskey” was a star attraction at Fort Snelling and throughout the Northwest.*
Below are a few fun snippets from “Smartest Horse in the U. S. Army” by Marilyn L. Slovak.
“He went into training in 1921, reached his peak of popularity in the late 1920s, and retired from performance in 1932. In 1944 Whiskey was buried with full military honors and a government headstone near the present Federal Building at Fort Snelling.
The future initially appeared bleak for this wild horse that reputedly “didn’t even wear shoes” and “could kick a hole in a battle-ship.” Considered unsuitable for the army because of his rebellious spirit, he might have been destroyed were it not for another 1921 arrival at the fort, Lt. William Reuben Hazelrigg. Seeing the possibility of greatness beneath the horse’s unruly exterior, the experienced equestrian selected the chestnut as his assigned mount and, perhaps because of the sway in his walk, named him Whiskey.”**
“Whiskey’s greatest talent was jumping. Combining spectacular jumps with a repertoire of tricks, the horse and his rider did double duty at fort polo games, also supplying the half-time entertainment. No obstacle deterred the fearless, high-flying horse, be it a team of mules hitched to a supply wagon; the white mule, Snelling, standing between two fences; a group of diners seated at a table; a human hurdle; or a blazing jump. When the crowds in the stands clapped and shouted their approval, the Minneapolis Star reported, “it seemed Whiskey knew they were cheering at him.”**
“At night, using a front hoof to maneuver the two-by- four that held the door closed, Whiskey routinely escaped from his stall. “I’d meet this horse in the aisle every night,” recounted Stewart Montgomery, a former sentry and Third Infantry band member. “I’d try to get him back into his stall with no success. Whiskey wasn’t going to follow my instructions. He just didn’t like to be locked up.”**
Today, after reading about the connection between Lt. Hazelrigg and Whiskey, I ponder the significance of the relationship of animals and human beings, Lord. Why is it that animals can play such a crucial role in revealing Your heart to humankind? Why is the Bible so full of revelations that are brought or symbolically taught a lesson through another species?
A brief list from the top of my head:
The heart of the greatest ruler on earth was tempered by gnats, lice, frogs, and locusts in Exodus 8-10.
The nation of Israel miraculously escapes Egypt by the hand of the Almighty. Then they miss having meat so G-d delivers so much quail they struggle to eat it all in Numbers 11.
Jonah runs away from his destiny and is delivered back to it by the trauma of being swallowed by a whale in Jonah 1.
Elijah, driven into hiding, was fed by ravens in I Kings 17.
Daniel refused to stop praying, and was thrown into a den of lions as punishment. Yet, he was spared, and his accusers were torn to shreds when they shared the same fate in Daniel 6.
We see an archetype of animals being agents or messengers of change to specific individuals and peoples. Our contemporaries scoff at Biblical accounts of the miraculous interventions of Your creatures. We often rationalize along with them, and have been ashamed of Your word in an era of science. Will You forgive us?
We have forgotten that the King of the Universe can use anything, anywhere, at any time to convey His messages. We train domestic animals, but what do we know about communicating with them, or listening to their speech? We pat ourselves on the back for cloning animals, yet we cannot create a creature as magnificent as Your horse.
I thank You today for the life of Whiskey and Lt. Hazelrigg. I thank You for their example of the redeeming relationship between Your creatures and humans. I thank You for the lessons taught by Bill Hazelrigg to his horse, and by the lessons kindled by Whiskey to him.
I do not want to diminish the value of either human beings or animals in Your kingdom. According to Your word, we are to be the managers and stewards of Your creation, but You are the owner of all.**** I want to acknowledge that Your heart is on display when there is a strong bond between us and the animals we know.
Can a horse experience joy? Only You know. Does a horse do tricks for anything other than a conditioned response-reward cycle? You also understand this.
We do thank You for bravery of war horses like Whiskey. We thank You that our animals seem to have sense of humor. We thank You for how we grow to “know” them, and as they may “know” us. We thank You for the heritage of Whiskey, and all creatures that make us better creatures! Amen!
Whiskey’s gravestone marker resides alongside the fallen soldiers of Fort Snelling, Minnesota and reads; “Whiskey / a great horse /a stout heart / 1911–1943.”***
**“Smartest Horse in the U. S. Army” by Marilyn L. Slovak ibid pp 337-339
**** https://biblehub.com/genesis/1-28.htm and https://biblehub.com/psalms/24-1.htm
^ Lieutenant William Hazelrigg and Whiskey jump the army mule Maud. Creator: Minnesota Historical Society, Photo Lab. 10/21/1922. Courtesy: © Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN (USA) photo “Donkeyversity” Pinterest