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The state budget didn’t pass last week and Governor Dannel P. Malloy is in charge of the state’s finances, including the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard (2GHG) located here in Newtown. It’s future hangs in the balance, yet again, as it has for the past two centuries. The 2GHG was formed by legislative charter on October 13, 1808 and reads in part: “To be subject to the orders of the Governor and to attend upon and escort him in times of peace, and war, and at all times as occasion may require; to be furnished with sufficient horses proper for said service, with necessary equipment; and to be dressed in uniform all at their own expence [sic]; and in lieu thereof, be exempted from every other kind of military duty.” That’s right, the 2GHG members have been self-financing for most of its 200-plus-year existence.
The unit’s first home was the New Haven Green near Elm Street. Members would come for weekly drills on the green, escort important people, like the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824, and participate in parades, like the end of the Embargo Act parade in 1809. In May 1861, the original 2GHG charter was amended to increase its numbers. By the late 1880s, the 2GHG had moved off the green and started renting facilities around New Haven. Despite their frequent moves around town, the members were in parades, pageants, and civic celebrations. Members mostly used their own horses, tack, and uniforms.
In 1901, another amendment to the charter allowed the 2GHG to form a troop of cavalry in the Connecticut National Guard, to be called Troop A. This troop moved into the old Second Regiment Armory on Meadow Street in New Haven. The building wasn’t really suited to drills, so the 2GHG raised funds to build a new facility, which then promptly burned down shortly after its completion in 1905. By 1906, they had rebuilt and recovered. In 1909, the state purchased the armory, giving 2GHG members enough capital to buy 20 horses for the unit. And so, with a state-funded building, the troop carried on with their own funding for the horses, their care, tack, and the trooper’s uniforms.
During World War I, Troop A was turned into a machine gun battalion sans horses and went to France. Some members of 2GHG carried on at home with their horses, holding drills at the Orange Street Armory. After the war, the 2GHG was reorganized as a companion unit to the cavalry unit, now called the 122nd Cavalry Regiment. In World War II the cavalry unit was folded into the Massachusetts unit and all the horses and cavalry equipment were turned over to the government. When that happened, the National Guard came in and buried all the excess tack, saddles, bridles, and blankets under the cement floor of the Orange Street Armory as a way of disposal. Today, that lost history remains under an apartment building.
It took until 1948 to reorganize the 2GHG after World War II and by 1949 the unit was housed in a stable on the Post Road in Orange. It then moved to Hillcrest Stables in West Haven until the mid-1950s when the stables were razed for a shopping center. Next home was the Yale Polo Armory, but when polo started up in the fall, it had to move again.
In 1957, the unit rented space in a hanger at Ansonia Airport, as well as used rented horses. Eventually troopers raised enough money to buy more horses. According to the 2GHG book, 200 Years of Living History, “All of the funds for materials, rent, the care of the horses and the horses themselves came from the troop, out of pocket. Governor Abraham Ribicoff had cut the 2GHG budget to $50 per year, so the troop bought everything and built everything.” While at Ansonia, the unit raised funds by conducting riding lessons in the evening for $2 per lesson.
In 1974, 2GHG moved to Bethany where members leased 19 acres, converted a cow barn, and built stalls and fencing. By 1980 funding was again very low, in the media the headlines read, “Horse Guard May Be Headed for Last Round Up.” The story said, “After the state budget had been cut to almost nothing, members were paying for feed and shoes. Time knocks at the back door and budget cuts knock at the front.”
By the 1980s, horses were being donated to 2GHG from private citizens and organizations, and still are today. However, when the troop received 13 Morgans in the early 1980s, the herd got too large for the members to pay for insurance and caretakers, and the state took over the ownership of the horses. Once again the state stepped in to keep the cavalry tradition alive.
With the Bethany lease up in 1989, Major John G. Upgrady found the 2GHG a “permanent home” in Newtown. The dairy farm at Fairfield Hills and its adjacent 100 acres had not been used by the state hospital for years. In fact, it was used to store old hospital furniture. It took some time to get it up and running for the horses, but by 1989 the guard and 23 horses had moved into its new home. Since arriving at Fairfield Hills, the state has invested resources to keep the facility in good repair. It would be a shame to let the barn go back to housing discarded furniture should the guard be forced to leave.
In the last two years after similar budget cuts loomed, the 2GHG worked to create a program where it leases stall space as a way to raise funds for the care of the horses, and pay for their food, hay, vet bills, and farrier. Members have done an excellent job of creating a program to help them be self-sufficient, just as in the past. It would be unfair to cut funding completely, and disband the herd, when this innovative program has turned out to be such a success. The value of the 2GHG in the community is priceless, namely as steward of the lovely barn and property it has called home since 1988.
Due to the 2GHG’s upkeep of its headquarters, residents and guests can enjoy beautiful vistas in the center of Newtown, the cavalry tradition and its importance to our state’s history, and the horses. The 2GHG keeps “the horse” alive, front and center, so that they too don’t fade into history as an animal that has outlived its time, as something old-fashioned, not needed. We all need horses in our lives; they remind us of our debt to them and what they have done for us throughout history. History teaches us about our past so we can live in the present and prepare for our future. I envision a future filled with cavalry horses grazing at Fairfield Hills. Thank you 2GHG for your service, your volunteerism, and your love of horses and history.