It was not immediately known among senior Pentagon officials Wednesday whether Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel can ride a horse, but he’s getting one anyway.
In what has become something of a tradition for stopovers by high-ranking Americans, Hagel was to receive the gift of a horse from the Mongolian Defense Ministry on a visit Thursday to the capital of Ulan Bator, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
Hagel named the horse Shamrock after his high school mascot. He will keep the horse in Mongolia where Shamrock was a member of the cavalry's honor guard battalion.
"He is truly handsome and very smart, I can tell," Hagel said. "He's modest, too."
The defense secretary went to Mongolia at the end of a 10-day Asia tour to thank Mongolian troops for their service with the coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for their contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations worldwide.
In 2011, Vice President Joe Biden also received a horse from the Mongolians. Biden named the colt "Celtic" and left it behind with a local herder.
In 2005 on the grounds of the Mongolian Defense Ministry, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was given a gelding described by the New York Times as having "a rich latte hue with a mane and tail the color of dark-roast coffee."
Rumsfeld named the horse "Montana" for the mountains ringing Ulan Bator.
Rumsfeld, who owns a ranch in New Mexico, decided against bringing the horse home. Instead, the horse trainer was given the symbolic gift of a flashlight to keep caring for the horse.
By Mongolian tradition, nobody else would ride Rumsfeld’s horse. Khasbazar Boldbat, a Mongolian Defense Ministry official, said that "only the steppe winds will ride on his back" unless Rumsfeld made a return trip, the New York Times reported.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org