The normal age of retirement is 65, but the Abu Bekr White Horse Patrol has passed that milestone and is still going strong.
Unique among the 166 equestrian units of the North American Shrine because of its pure white horses, the Sioux City troupe is also the most widely-traveled and celebrated of all horse patrols. Among its triumphs are a Presidential Inaugural Parade, two appearances at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., and one in the Cotton Bowl Parade in Dallas, Tex., plus a nationally-televised 11-minute performance of its close-order drill at the Shrine East-West All-Star Game in San Francisco, Calif.
But essentially, the Patrol belongs to the communities of Siouxland—to their civic celebrations and fairs—all within one day’s drive for the big red and white semi-trailers that transport the horses. A child on the streets of Moville, Iowa, Ponca, Neb., or Gayville, S.D., shares the same excitement as a tot on State Street in Chicago or Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington when the prancing white chargers pass in review.
Ask any kid, nothing, absolutely nothing on the face of the earth can beat a white horse.
How did this organization come to be? How did it surmount the difficulties of establishing a blood line that could produce pure white, pink-shinned horses of nearly uniform size when the skeptics said it couldn’t be done? How did it survive the Great Depression when warmth and food were the only concerns of millions upon millions of Americans?
The answer to these questions is the will and devotion of generations of Shriners and their outstanding skills with horses. From those first days in 1920 when a group of Sioux City Stockyards men mounted their personal horses of all breeds, size and conformation to parade until today when their successors do the same, the goals have always been the same—to achieve perfection and to serve mankind by promoting the “World’s Greatest Philanthropy,” the Shriners Crippled Children’s Hospital and Burn Institutes.
It was in 1926 that the Patrol learned of a young white Arabian stallion in Greenville, Tex. He was the son of White Racer, one of the all-time great “high school” horses and he was purchased for $1,000-a substantial sum in those days. Brought to Sioux City, he was named Abu Bekr in honor of the local Shrine Temple and was matched with mares of all colors, but mostly black and brown. “Abe,” as he was called, proceeded to sire the White Horse Patrol, achieving that unique distinction among horse troupes by 1929. “Old Abe” died in 1946 at the ripe old age of 24, but his lineage extends to this day.
In today’s patrol, many of the mounts are offspring or grandchildren of MM. Snow Colonel, a magnificent white stallion owned by Rex Seitzinger of Onawa, Iowa, a long-time Patrol member and past potentate of Abu Bekr Shrine Temple. But the entire nation is a shopping center for potential members of the Patrol. Because of its fame, the Patrol is regularly advised of candidates in far-flung places and they are checked to see if they meet the rigid specifications for membership.
Throughout its history, individuals have had a great influence on the White Horse Patrol. The first captain, an ex-cavalry trooper by the name of Eugene T. Rainey, brought an expert horseman from the cavalry post in Omaha to introduce a drill. Many of the original formations are included in the drill you see today.
Ray Siman, a distinguished livestock commission man at the Sioux City Stockyards, served as captain for 20 years, longer than anyone else in the Patrol’s history. He supported the Patrol with his own pocketbook during the Depression when it otherwise would have folded. Ben Novitsky, another commission man, served actively as secretary-treasurer for nearly half a century and today lives on in emeritus status.
Dr. George Pierpont Satter, an Englishman who was the Patrol’s first veterinarian and first lieutenant for many years, insisted that as much of the horse as possible be shown, so lightweight English saddles were substituted for the heavy cavalry McClelland saddles in the early 1930s.
The quest for excellence was continued with the introduction of the Wallen family in 1935. Harry Wallen, a skilled horseman, was brought from Independence, Mo., to become the first regularly employed trainer. With him were his four sons, whom he had taught the rare art of training horses in circus dressage. The acts have been a standard of the Patrol’s shows for half a century. One of the Wallen siblings, Dick, remained in Sioux City to find a riding stable and has continued his association with the Patrol, rising through the ranks to a term as captain. Dick Wallen directed the Patrol’s breeding program in development of the American Saddlebreds and under his appraising eye and expert instruction, the Patrol is the team to beat in Shrine horse competition.
The straight-backed posture, correct grip on the reins, positioning of feet in the stirrups bear witness to expert guidance during long training sessions throughout the warm weather months.
The White Horse Patrol is a self-supporting, non-profit organization within the North American Shrine. Financial support in the nature of horse sponsorship comes from about 145 businesses and individuals mainly in the Sioux City area. Each rider owns and supports his own horse and provides his uniform and all of his tack.
The Sioux City, IA White Horse Mounted Patrol unit of Abu Bekr Shrine Temple is in its 87th year as a member-supported show and parade unit. It serves as a goodwill ambassador for Sioux City and the Siouxland area. The White Horse Mounted Patrol maintains about 25 horses, and is the only all white-haired, pink-skinned horse unit in the Western Hemisphere. The White Horse Mounted Patrol has performed from coast to coast and into Canada throughout its history, beginning with its first major trip to Washington D.C. in 1923. The Patrol has since made journeys to cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, Tulsa, Dallas (Cotton Bowl), Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco (East-West Shrine Game), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl Parade), Toronto, Canada, Washington D.C., Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville. The Pender members include Vern Dahlman, Leon Bruns, and Richard “Dick” Smith.