DAR celebrates Trumbull's 301st

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Lebanon - posted Tue., Oct. 18, 2011
Sal Tarantino (front) leads members of Sheldon's Horse Unit from the Second Continental Light Dragoons through a drill. Behind him are Peter Travers and Rick Sarvas. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Sal Tarantino (front) leads members of Sheldon's Horse Unit from the Second Continental Light Dragoons through a drill. Behind him are Peter Travers and Rick Sarvas. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Caesar, Orion, Prince and Joshua owe their lives to Sheldon’s Horse, the Second Continental Light Dragoons. The horses, all Arabians, were all abused or neglected  in their former lives. Now, they live together on the Colchester farm of Captain Sal Tarantino, the commander of the Light Dragoons. On Oct. 15, the group was the featured attraction at a Daughters of the American Revolution event recognizing the 301st anniversary of Governor Jonathan Trumbull’s birth at the Trumbull House and stables. In addition to a performance by the state troubadour, tours of the house and stables, and a birthday cake for the governor, the event offered drills and demonstrations by the Sheldon's Horse.

Sheldon’s Horse, the Second Continental Light Dragoons, was the first cavalry of the United States Army, commissioned by an order of the Continental Congress in 1776. The six troops of the Dragoons were comprised largely of men from Connecticut, according to group literature, but included men from Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York as well. Elements of the regiment saw action during the Revolutionary War at various locations, including Saratoga and Schoharie. “The regiment performed as the first U.S. ‘pony express’,” according to the group’s pamphlet, “relaying messages along a string of express rider stations between Washington’s headquarters and the northern colonies.”

Sheldon’s Horse was never officially disbanded after the war. The final muster was taken in May of 1866, with the death of the last surviving trooper, Lemuel Cook, at the age of 106.

Reestablished in 1978, Sheldon’s Horse participates in a variety of civic, ceremonial and educational activities throughout the northeast. Activities include historical reenactments and educational appearances for local Connecticut schoolchildren. “Some of our members are ex-military, some are not,” said Tarantino. According to the group’s website, “Under Title 3, chapter 31, Section 3-10, Governor's Powers of the General Statutes of Connecticut, Sheldon's Horse is granted status as a reactivated ‘in service’ military unit and representative of the State of Connecticut.”

“We provided flood relief recently up in New York,” said Tarantino.

The regiment’s horses require rehabilitation before they can begin training for drills. Training takes an average of one year. According to regiment member Rick Sarvas, Arabians are used because they are period-correct. “They were called Barbs back then,” said Sarvas, “for the Barbary Coast.” Sarvas’ mount, Orion, is a 20-year-old former dressage horse with a mind of his own. “It took him a while to get used to me,” said Sarvas. “He was used to having a very rigid rider in the saddle. From his perspective, I was flopping around up there.”

The horses’ familiarity with each other is essential to their success during drills. “They’re required to go nose-to-tail during drills,” said Sarvas. “You wouldn’t get horses that weren’t very familiar with each other to do that.”

“We do maneuvers that they would have done back in the eighteenth century,” explained Tarantino. Drills in Lebanon included sword-handling and pistol-firing demonstrations. The horses appeared to behave beautifully. Even the eighteen-century replica pistols, notorious for misfiring, cooperated, despite the windy weather. All but one firing went off without a hitch.

Sheldon’s Horse, the Second Continental Light Dragoons is seeking new volunteers. Both riders and non-riders are welcome. For more information go to www.dragoons.info.

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