FORT HOOD — Thursday will be the final day soldiers and other patrons of Fort Hood’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation will be able to stable their personally-owned horses at the installation’s Hunt and Saddle Club stables.
The community stables at Fort Hood, home to the 1st Cavalry Division, are closing permanently at 5 p.m. Thursday after decades of providing a place where soldiers, retirees, military families and disabled veterans can keep their personal horses. The Army’s 1st Cavalry Division horses are kept in a separate stable that remains in operation.
Located next to the 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment, the community stables were originally formed by the late Tuke Shoemaker, wife of the late retired Gen. Robert Shoemaker. An avid horsewoman, Tuke made a habit of setting up riding clubs at any installation her husband was stationed at to instill a love of riding, especially in the youth.
She died at the age of 95 on Dec. 27.
Fort Hood Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation said there were several reasons for making the decision to shut down the stables.
“In May 2021, then Fort Hood garrison commander (Col. Jason Wesbrock) signed a Termination of Boarding Contracts and sent formal notice that announced that the Hunt & Saddle Stables will permanently close effective Sept. 30,” said Lance E. Pooler, chief of the Business Division at Family and MWR, in response to a Herald request. “The reasons behind the closing were based on recommendations from the Fort Hood veterinarian at the time who assessed the facility as ‘High Risk’ due to potential for injury or illness of the horses stabled there. The facility is in need of repairs that would exceed $750,000 to $1 million. It is not funded under government or non-appropriated funds. It was originally funded by the Fort Hood Riding Club who paid rent to off-set operating costs. In the late 1980’s DFMWR took over the stables because the Riding Club was not able to self-support it with funds generated from stall rental fees.”
Major concerns from the Fort Hood veterinarian included structural and general premises issues with the stalls and sheds, pest contamination, unenforced animal care, preventative services, and danger of harm to 1st Cavalry Division Horse Detachment animals due to the proximity of the stables to their operation.
“It was determined that the costs associated with a complete renovation would take more than 150 years to recoup, assuming the current rental rates are maintained,” Pooler said. “Given the price sensitivity of our existing renters coupled with comparable rental rates and facilities within the Fort Hood area, the likelihood that Hunt and Saddle could raise its rental rates and retain its customers is highly unlikely.”
One boarder, however, said the post never told them what the veterinarians had found, and that they were told they would need to file a Freedom of Information request to see the results.
“They said the stables had failed inspections conducted by the post veterinarian for three years in a row,” said retired Army 1st Sgt. Carl Arnold. “Why were the patrons not able to review the results? Where is the transparency? If we had known, we could have tried to fix the issues.”
Arnold said the stables had earned at least $5,000 in profit over expenses in 2020, and if that was normal, the profit should have been reinvested into maintaining the stables. The retiree said he specifically requested Fort Hood as a duty station in 2009 for the simple reason it had the stables for his horses, but the last time he had seen any actual maintenance done on the stables was in 2013.
“In fact, I found out that in 2005, MWR was going to give the stables $500,000 for full renovations, but the patrons at the time couldn’t agree on how the renovations should be done,” Arnold said. “The guy in charge at MWR at the time, a retired lieutenant colonel, instead of making a command decision and getting it done just turned the money back over to MWR.”
Arnold added he believed MWR had always wanted to close the stables, stating that the few maintenance men supposed to be taking care of the stables had told him they had been told not to do any other maintenance other than simple things such as mowing the grass.
“I only think they’re doing it now because Tuke is gone,” Arnold said. “She was our patron and they never could have closed it while she was alive. I said it several years before to several other stable patrons that she was the one force keeping the stables open. Sadly, it (the closure) seems to be of an interesting coincidence.”
Tuke’s last horse, Casey, was still stabled there until recently, he said.
Moving their horses to other stables has been a costly affair as well, Arnold added. Finding a stable with good enough amenities for his two horses has turned his once six-mile one-way trip to take care of his “babies” into a 25-mile one-way trip and added an estimated $4,000 to $6,000 in boarding costs annually.
“I think this whole affair was handled wrongly,” he said. “We were just told they were shutting the stables and were given no input in finding ways to keep them open. All the boarders I have spoken to would have been willing to pay higher boarding fees and even help repair the stalls with our own money.”
The May termination letter given to the boarders gave them until 5 p.m. Thursday to have their horses and all their gear off property. It also notified them that any horse, tack, feed, trailer or personal equipment still on the property after 30 days would be “deemed abandoned and disposed of in a manner determined appropriate by FMWR.”