How One Caisson Horse Helps Grieving Children

by M-Gillies

A child plays with Klinger, Caisson horse, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), during the Washington International Horse Show Kids' Day. Klinger serves as an unofficial mascot for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and helps young children deal with the grief of losing a loved one who served in the military. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jose Torres, Jr.)

Back in May 2010 a children’s book known as Klinger: A Story of Honor and Hope appeared on bookshelves. It was the endearing story of young horse dreaming of fame as a racehorse but soon finds himself enlisted to perform funeral honors for fallen heroes while bringing comfort to their families.

The story not only received numerous accolades from within the publishing community, which include a gold medal in the Spirit Category for the 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, but also received a seal of approval from the Young Voices Foundation as a book that inspires, mentors and educates readers of all ages.

While the message of the story is inspirational, its fictional tale doesn’t stray far from which the fiction is based.

In October 2004, author of Klinger, Betsy Beard began what she called hemorrhaging on paper after her life changed forever. She had just received the news that her son, SPC. Bradley Beard had been killed in action while serving in Iraq. To channel her grief, she turned to journaling, but also to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) – a national nonprofit organization made up of, and providing services to, all those who have lost a loved one on active duty with the Armed Forces.

It wasn’t long before Beard found her involvement with TAPS leading her to a special 3d US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson horse named Klinger.

Described as a meticulously groomed, much-beloved midnight black horse, Klinger has been known for years for his participations in performing military funeral honors in Arlington National Cemetery for fallen heroes. But through TAPS, he is known for being the program’s unofficial mascot, offering support to grieving children who attend the various TAPS events – particularly the Good Grief Camp, which sees children each year attending the Fort Myer caisson barn.

However, for Beard, Klinger became an enormous inspiration when it came to her children’s book.

“As I researched and began writing, I was overwhelmed with the enormity of what the Soldiers of the Caisson platoon do for those of us who have lost a loved one in service to America.”

The book began as a project to give young survivors,  those whose parent or sibling died while serving in the armed forces a comfort to ease their pain with the knowledge that their loved ones were greatly loved and honored.  Much like how, in the book, the fictional Klinger emphathizes with the children who come to the cemetery who have lost family members.

As TAPS public affairs officer, Ami Neiberger-Miller said, “(Klinger) represents a creature that cares about the child and how the child is doing. Children who go to Arlington specifically for a loved one’s funeral and see Klinger get an understanding of the experience that helps them cope with trauma.”

In fact children learn from the story, from how America honors those who have served to the deep message of honoring military families.

“When we give the book to our survivors, there is also a stuffed animal that goes along with it,” Beard said. “The surviving children who get the stuffed animal often name it Klinger and they will talk to it. Sometimes, I think children find it easier to pour out their hearts to an animal than to a human. I believe that is because animals tend to accept us unconditionally. They offer their presence and their comfort to hurting hearts.”

Klinger: A Story of Hope was written to help children age 12 and under, but has seen its popularity grow amongst older and younger readers throughout the years and is available for purchase at TAPS website.

TAPS is the national organization providing compassionate care for families of America’s fallen military heroes and has offered support to more than 30,000 surviving family members of our fallen military since 1994, providing peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, seminars, case work assistance, and 24/7 crisis intervention care.

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