Blackjack Horse – The Horse in John Kennedy’s Funeral

Black Jack Horse The death of a sitting leader is a difficult time for any country. This is especially true when the cause of death is an assassination. In the United States, the murder of President John F. Kennedy was cause for much sadness. Who can forget the images of Kennedy’s young son saluting the coffin of his father as it passed by?

One of the central figures involved in the funeral procession of President John Kennedy was a horse named Blackjack. The riderless horse has become a part of certain funerals in the United States. In 1963 this was the case for Kennedy, and the horse was named after the gambling game. Here we will focus on the horse and not casino blackjack.

Kennedy Slain in Dallas, Texas

The shooting of President Kennedy occurred at approximately 12:30 p.m. on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to nearby Parkland Hospital where emergency personnel desperately attempted to save his life.


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Despite their efforts, Kennedy expired after suffering a massive bullet wound to the head. The body of the President was then removed to Air Force One for transport back to Washington. On that same flight, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as the new President of the United States.

In Washington the plans were already being made for a state funeral. These types of events are elaborate affairs which often last several days. An important part of the funeral is the procession to the place where the ceremony will be held.

The Tradition of the Riderless Horse

In the United States the riderless horse is traditionally a part of military funerals for those individuals that have achieved the rank of colonel or higher. This includes the President of the United States who is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces.

The horse is typically outfitted in black and led by a walking handler. On the horse there is a saddle and other tack that would generally be used. Empty black riding boots are reversed in the stirrups of the horse. This is to symbolize the deceased looking back on those they have commanded or their fellow athletes one last time.

Some athletes are given a riderless horse in their funeral procession. This was the case following the death of horse racing jockey Lucy Burch.

Blackjack – The Riderless Horse for President John F. Kennedy

The horse chosen for the funeral procession of President Kennedy was a half-morgan named after General John “Black Jack” Pershing. Blackjack bore the brand of the United States Army on his left shoulder.

The horse was an impressive sight, standing near 17 hands and black in color. Blackjack also served in the funerals of other important figures such as Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and Douglas MacArthur. The horse died in 1976. Blackjack was given a full military burial, just the second horse in the nation to receive this honor.

How Blackjack the Horse Helped to Create a Healing Moment

When President Kennedy was returned to Washington for his burial, the nation was in shock and grief. As the day arrived when Kennedy would be laid to rest, thousands of mourners made the trip to Washington while millions more watched the proceedings on television.

One of the most stirring moments was when the casket passed the area where the First Lady stood with the couple’s children. Mrs. Kennedy stood back as the President’s young son, John Jr., stepped forward to offer a salute. Not far away in the procession was the horse Blackjack.

Those who witnessed the riderless horse Blackjack in the funeral of President Kennedy remember the event as one which was very moving. The ceremony did much to help the citizens of the United States to manage their grief in a time of profound sorrow.

Other famous riderless horses in the United States include Sergeant York. This horse was given the duty of assisting with the funeral of President Ronald Reagan in 2004. Old Bob was the horse given the duties for the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln.

This tradition for military funerals in the United States has somewhat been lessened in recent years. Many are sad to see it go, especially those who have memories of Blackjack the horse.

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