***UPDATE: This open letter, first posted on May 12, 2011, has had a few points challenged by Elizabeth Forel, President of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages on May 21, 2011. Click here to read her objections and our response. We have also indicated in the text below the three points of contention and linked to our response to Ms. Forel there.***
Recently, Blue Star Equiculture was contacted by Laura Allen of the Animal Law Coalition and Equine Welfare Alliance in May 2011, seeking our support for a bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature that would ban the sale and transport of horses for slaughter in the Commonwealth. Upon our sharing our letter we had written in February 2011 in support of the bill and against horse slaughter for human consumption, Ms. Allen then proceeded to ask Blue Star Equiculture to explain our position on commercial carriage horses, especially in light of the efforts of other organizations to ban carriages in New York City.
Blue Star Equiculture’s Open Letter on NYC Carriage Horses – How Supporting Anti-Slaughter Initiatives and Equine Welfare MUST Include Supporting Carriage Horses and Other Working Horses
Currently, 100,000 horses from the United States every year meet their end horribly in slaugterhouses in Canada and Mexico, and the vastly overwhelming majority of those horses are not, have never been, nor will ever be commercial carriage horses.
The efforts to end horse slaughter and address the "unwanted horse" problem by finding homes for homeless horses are in no way incompatible with the effort to preserve and support working horses in urban environments. In fact, they are complementary, and serve to work towards the same ends - finding homes that are healthy and sustainable for horses.
For all but the past 50 to 100 years of mankind's partnership with the horse, MOST horses worked with us in harness. Driving draft and harness horses was a skill as valued, if not more so, than being able to ride - indeed, working horses in harness were vital to the development and growth of our society and economy. Working in harness offers yet another skill/activity that horses can participate in, and increases the likelihood that horses will find a niche and a good home.
Efforts to ban the carriage horses in New York and elsewhere are not only unfounded on the surface with their allegations of "institutionalized abuse," but also are counterproductive to REAL progress in improving the welfare of America's horses in meaningful ways. Countless resources, energy and money has been spent by anti-carriage-horse organizations without doing good for any horses. (It is estimated that NY-CLASS has spent well in excess of $1 million since August 2008 on attempting to ban NYC carriage horses; PeTA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, in unsuccessful and slanderous campaigns against the carriage horses; Equine Advocates has exploited wildly imaginative tales of Bobby's "abuse" to raise tens of thousands of dollars for their anti-carriage-horse campaign.) Further, these anti-carriage-horse groups are proposing "solutions" to a non-existent "problem" that would ultimately eliminate hundreds of good homes for horses, not only in New York City but across the country. Their propaganda against the "cruelty" of working in harness seeks to turn public opinion against a perfectly healthy equine activity - anti-harness bias further erodes viable options for horse owners seeking to sustain - or even meaningfully interact with - their horses.
There are approximately 10 million horses in the United States today, and, with the possible exception of man's best friend the dog, the horse is Amerca's most beloved animal. Billions of dollars are spent caring for horses, whose owners participate in horse shows, races, trail rides, dressage, barrel racing, gymkhana, pleasure driving, endurance riding, riding lessons, therapeutic riding and driving programs, vaulting, breeding, equine assisted therapy and learning, and more. Commercial carriage horses are just one of many ways that humans and horses work together for mutual enjoyment and benefit. As I will demonstrate in my discussion of the carriage horses in New York City, if the life I describe for them is to be considered "inhumane" and worthy of banning, then there is NO MEANINGFUL DISTINCTION that can be drawn between the lives of carriage horses and the lives of riding horses, show horses, or pasture pets.
Blue Star Equiculture is calling on ALL horse owners and horse lovers to stand up for carriage horses and defend them from those who would rather there be NO domestic horses anywhere - including yours. (To find out how you can help, join our "Beautiful Horse" campaign.)
Blue Star Equiculture volunteers standing up for working horses, May 1, 2011, Grand Army Plaza, New York, NY. This Beautiful Horse's name is Ernie.
To begin, I think that the most important part of the whole “carriage horse debate” is that question that Ms. Allen asked which is “Why is this a good life for a horse?” (She also pointed to some of the claims of "abuse" leveled by the organizations in New York whose sole purpose is to ban carriage horses from New York City.)
Most all of us would say that a good life for a horse is one where their physical and mental needs are met. (For a complete list of Blue Star’s beliefs about horses, see our Credo, here: http://www.equiculture.org/credo.aspx)
Let’s talk about those physical and mental needs that make up a good life for a horse, and how carriage horses, especially those in New York City, have all these needs met or exceeded.
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Horses should get plenty of fresh, clean water.
(Let’s just get this one out of the way, as it is a favorite canard of the anti-carriage-horse activists…) Horses in New York City have individual access to water in their stalls. In most of the stables, including the stable (Clinton Stables, W. 52nd St.) where the majority of the horses live (over half call Clinton home), horses have automatic waterers in their stalls, so no matter what, they have access to clean, fresh water when at home. These waterers are routinely cleaned (some horses, such as a mare named Rosie, like to dunk their hay in their waterer… this is an individual particularity that the horses are allowed to freely express). At work, horses have access to water from several sources. First, every carriage carries a bucket of water under it, so that horses can be watered wherever they go throughout the work day. This bucket can be filled from spigots and/or fire hydrants out on route – there’s a spigot I know of on the Grand Army Plaza in the tulip garden, among others used by the Parks Department. Further, horses also have access to several watering troughs. One trough is located at 6th Avenue where it enters the park, and from my observation is the primary source of water for the horses at work. Any horse leaving for a ride from the line on the Plaza or on 59th St. east of 6th Avenue will pass the trough, which has constantly circulating water. This past year, this trough was on 24/7 all year long (sometimes in the winter, the Parks Department has to shut the trough off so things won’t freeze). Horses pass it with an opportunity to drink on virtually every ride, and many carriage drivers use their horse’s stopping for a drink as a good opportunity to get a photo op for their fare (lest anyone think that the horses stopping for a drink is an “inconvenience” to the driver… it’s not! I’ll tell you from my experience in Philadelphia that the public LOVES to see the horse drink… not just because they’re glad to see the horse being taken care of – as they should be glad – but also because they’re fascinated to see HOW a horse drinks; many people are unaware that horses suck up water rather than lapping it up like a dog does). There is another trough, again with the same constantly circulating water, on 5th Avenue at the back of the carriage stands that horses pass as they return from their rides. This trough is generally only on in the summertime as a supplement to the 6th Ave. trough and the water buckets; anti-carriage-horse advocates LOVE LOVE LOVE to take photos of this trough in the winter when it is disused as “proof” that the horses aren’t getting water (when there are, in fact, several other sources of water the horses are using). Finally, in addition to the buckets and permanent circulating fixtures, the carriage industry owns a solar heated water tub that they set up in the winter next to the 6th Avenue trough and pay a guy to keep filled if that trough is shut off, or that they use when supplemental water is needed; it’s gotten use up by Columbus Circle as well. So, there are plenty of opportunities for the horses to slake their thirst at work, and they have constant access to water at home. Dr. Pam Corey, the ASPCA’s equine vet who enforces the carriage horse regulations with her partner, Agent Pentangelo, has stated on numerous occasions that she has NEVER seen a dehydrated carriage horse.
Carriage horses getting a drink at the 6th Ave. watering trough.
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Horses should get appropriate amounts of forage (whether grass or quality hay).
Depending on the caloric expenditure of the horse, plus any nutritional deficiencies in the forage, horses should receive supplemental grain and other nutrients, if necessary. Carriage horses in New York get free choice hay (or nearly so – 24 hour a day stablehands replace hay as needed) while in their stalls. They are not fed two separate “meals” of hay as horses are in some boarding barns, a practice that can lead to the horse “bolting” their food, rather than eating slowly and at intervals throughout the day. NYC carriage horses are at work NO MORE than 9 hours in a 24 hour period, leaving 15 to 16 hours at least for eating small amounts. The horses, given that they are athletes, also receive grain to supplement their diet. The owner of the horse is responsible for feeding their horse their grain in most stables, and most of the carriage horses receive their grain while at work in the Park. The drivers carry grain in buckets under the carriage, with covers to keep pigeons out when the horses aren’t eating. The horses get to eat their grain at many intervals throughout the day, in between rides. Feeding horses many small meals is better for digestion, and also keeps the horses occupied while waiting, and prevents horses from being too anxious to “go home in a hurry” at the end of the day due to an empty stomach. (One NYC stable, Chateau Stables, does not feed their horses at the stands, but exclusively in the barn, AM and PM. This is the method of feeding grain that the stables in Philadelphia use as well, and has its merits as well – it works fine there.)
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Horses should receive appropriate veterinary care.
Horses need annual vaccinations and parasite control as necessary. In NYC, the regulations that went into effect last year now require TWICE annual veterinary inspections for soundness and health (in addition to the annual Coggins and vaccinations). Horses, because they are required to go on turnout at least 5 weeks out of the year, also are getting shipping health certificates when they leave and return from the city, which means horses are being handled by a vet under normal circumstances 4 x per year. Horses in New York City are under constant public scrutiny, and the ASPCA vet, Dr. Corey, is required to investigate any complaint. Should a horse be found to be unfit for work (whether during a routine vet exam or during an inspection or responding to a complaint), the horse is prescribed treatment, and may not return to work until given vet clearance. Carriage horse owners do not rely on the vets to tell them when their horse is unwell, either. The owners work with a variety of vets that they can call any hour of the day for rare emergency care; carriage drivers have availed themselves of the top-of-the-line equine hospital facilities at the Ruffian Center at Belmont and at other centers on Long Island, all in the best interest of getting the best possible care for their horses (recently, the President of the New York Horse and Carriage Association was lamenting that the Ruffian Center has been forced to close due to lack of funds). Contrary to accusations, it’s in the best interest of the owners to give their horses the best care possible – finding a “replacement” horse is an expensive and time-consuming prospect; further, many carriage owners have several horses that they rotate in and out of the city.
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Horses should receive routine farrier care.
Farrier care includes hooves maintained at the correct length, angle and shape for the individual horse, and appropriate shoes provided for the orthopedic or activity requirements of the individual horse. Carriage horses, being shod to do their work on asphalt, obviously receive regular, routine farrier care. Most carriage horses work in steel shoes with drill-tek or borium cleats, although there are a few horses that work in rubber shoes (each horse’s needs are determined individually by the farriers and trimmed / shod accordingly).
A video by a long-time carriage driver showing 3rd-generation Eddie Hayes shoeing one of his working carriage horses.
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Horses should receive routine dental care.
Dental care includes routine visits – ever 6 months or once a year, depending on the individual – to ensure proper occlusion, the ability to properly chew and digest food pain free, etc. Carriage horses, already on a regular vet schedule, get dental care as well (and, because they are bringing in an income, carriage horse owners can AFFORD to get their horses dental care, which ends up saving on wasted feed from horses being unable to properly chew and digest food).
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Horses should have adequate shelter / protection from the elements.
Horses, I need not remind you, are outdoor animals (we all know of the pastured horse who refuses to ever use the run-in shed…we’ve got several of those on the farm!). NYC carriage horses, by law, are prohibited from working when the temperature falls below 18 degrees or rises above 89 degrees, and must return to their stables at that time. Carriage drivers, by law, must provide blankets for their horses while waiting in the stands when the temperatures fall below 35 degrees, and waterproof rainsheets when there is precipitation below 55 degrees. (Of course the carriage horses don’t wear blankets or rain sheets when actually working pulling the carriage, as the movement of the horse’s muscles generates lots of body heat.) Let’s consider horses who are pasture-boarded – many experts recommend NOT blanketing a horse unless absolutely necessary, such as when it’s wet and windy or when temperatures fall below 20 degrees (I’ve even read 0 degrees when it’s dry and calm). The best way (and in fact the *natural* way) for a horse to stay warm is to eat a lot of food (see discussion of grain and hay) and to move around. In the summertime, horses keep themselves cool by sweating – with proper hydration (see water) horses are very good at maintaining appropriate body temperature. Barns should not be heated or air-conditioned, to allow the horse’s homeostatic system to function properly. In short, Mother Nature has equipped horses with an incredible ability to regulate their body temperature in extremes of weather. Carriage horses in NYC are limited in their range of working temperature (18 to 89 degrees), and are further protected by a limiting factor of being accompanied by a driver (who experiences the same weather conditions as the horse). When in the barn, carriage horses get plenty of ventilation (fans, windows on more than one side of the building). The Clinton Stables have misters on their fans which, in instances such as last summer, when horses were not allowed out to work due to extreme heat, can lower the inside temperature of the barn by 10 to 15 degrees.
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Horses should live in a clean and comfortable environment.
When stalled, their stalls should be mucked regularly, should have adequate bedding, and be large enough for the horse to lie down comfortably. When turned out, their enclosure should not have accumulated manure, and should be free of hazards to the degree possible. Because of the space constraints, carriage horses’ stalls are mucked AT LEAST once a day and manure is not allowed to accumulate (there’s no place for that!). The barns I have been in NYC have been free of ammonia smells. I personally am not a big fan of straight stalls (sometimes called standing stalls) for horses, but I recognize that straight stalls have been used successfully for WORKING horses for centuries, and straight stalls do allow horses to move and lie down comfortably (the NYPD uses straight stalls). However, when discussing the NYC carriage horses specifically, the furor over straight stalls is a moot point – ALL four NYC carriage barns now use exclusively box stalls to stable their horses. These stalls are plenty big for horses to turn around, lie down and stretch out. (They are even big enough for horses to roll in, as I saw recently.) The modest stalls of NYC suit the horses fine.
(Turning away from NYC for the moment, I have observed that boarders at fancy boarding facilities often justify the lack of both turnout and work for their cooped up horses by the fact that their horses live in “spacious” 12 x 12 or 14 x 14 or 12 x 18 or whatever size stall. A large stall is NO substitute for regular turnout or daily work. Meanwhile, our human definition of what kind of stall our horses would like to live in sometimes turns out to be completely confounded by their own preferences… We have a pair of Belgian draft horse sisters at Blue Star Equiculture, who have decided that their very favorite place in the barn is a tiny old stall with a low ceiling in the basement of the barn. They’re the matriarchs and they chose that spot and they LOVE it – jealously defending it from other equine intruders and setting up “camp” when they think we’re bringing horses into the barn for the night (the horses usually stay out as much as possible at Blue Star). We’ve tried putting them in the “nicer” stalls elsewhere, but clearly nothing makes them happier than that ridiculous, small, cramped, dark stall-that-I-wouldn’t-call-a-stall stall that you or I would think was awful.)
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Horses should have a minimal amount of stress in their lives.
The assumption erroneously made by those unfamiliar with horses (or even those familiar with horses, but not familiar with carriage horses), is that the city must surely be stressful and scary to a horse. Yes, I dare say that if I brought a horse who had lived their whole life at a horse-boarding facility, in a small turnout pen or working in the indoor arena and plunked them down in Manhattan, that horse would freak out from the unfamiliar stimuli. However, to the carriage horse, all the hustle and bustle of the city is NORMAL. Cars and taxis are everyday experiences and their experience has shown them that they are nothing to fear. The same goes for horns, sirens, strange pedestrians, guys pushing food carts, street vendors, pedicabs, buses, bicyclists, etc. These are all regular, normal experiences for carriage horses and as usual parts of their day are no cause for concern. (Yes, horses are prey animals, but the experiences of the carriage horse have shown them that pedicab peddlers or sign-waving activists don’t actually eat horses, and there is nothing to fear.) In fact, the body posture of the carriage horses at work indicates their lack of stress. They are relaxed, as evidenced by their often cocked hind legs (NOT an indication of orthopedic problems as Donny Moss continues to believe), and lowered head positions while dozing – in fact, a stressed horse WOULD NOT sleep , while you see carriage horses napping all the time. The horses are alert and responsive – they show evidence of paying attention to their surroundings for cues that matter, like cues from their drivers, filtering out the extraneous “noise” of the city. To demonstrate the lack of stress the carriage horses experience, one would go looking for signs of mental and physical stress, such as “barn vices” like stall weaving, pacing, cribbing, head wringing, kicking, and general agitation while stalled. In all of my visits to the NYC carriage stables (and in my experience with the Philadelphia carriage horses as well), I have not encountered any horse with these stable vices, which are wide spread in many riding facilities where horses are stalled. (Much has been made of the “pawing” sometimes seen by horses on the line in NYC… That pawing would be best interpreted not as stress but as the horse saying, “Bring me my grain bucket, human valet! Yes, you with the opposable thumbs!”)
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Horses should be groomed regularly.
Carriage horses get groomed on a daily basis before being harnessed, and are brushed and cleaned further while at work. The carriage horses I have seen in NYC do not have dull or unhealthy coats – they are generally shiny, healthy, and even dappled.
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Horses should live and interact with other horses.
Horses are herd animals. I am of the opinion that one of the WORST things that can be done to a horse is to force them to live alone. The NYC carriage horses (and carriage horses in general), do not live alone in the least. Carriage horses can see and communicate with their fellow “herd mates” (horses from the same barn, or from the same floor) while at work, through body language, posturing and vocalization. At home, all the carriage horses in NYC live in box stalls with half-walls where they can see each other. Bars on the stalls prevent fighting and biting, though horses can touch each other. Many of the stalls allow horses to put their heads out into the aisle and socialize with horses there (at Chateau Stables, carriage horses Bosco and Blue were busy playing with each other across the narrow aisle). Carriage horses get more socialization than horses at many riding barns where stalls do not have openings between them (only out to the aisle) and horses are only turned out individually. (When carriage horses in NYC go on turnout, they are pastured with others in herds.) I will tell you from my own personal experience as a carriage driver in Philadelphia that carriage horses (like all horses) have extremely rich and complex social lives – all it takes is a little careful observation to realize this. The horses I’ve driven, I could tell you their best friends in the barn, who they didn’t like, who they would mutually groom with and who they wouldn’t, which horse was most likely around the corner when my horse would whinny at the stoplight at 4th and Walnut St., etc.
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Horses should get plenty of exercise.
Just like people, horses suffer a variety of health problems from being sedentary. Walking helps digestion and is important for cardio-vascular health. In the wild, horses walk anywhere between 15 to 25 miles a day. Carriage horses in NYC and elsewhere work primarily at a walk, the most natural gait for the horse (especially draft horses). Many pastured/paddocked horses do not move around a lot, even when given room to do so (why roam when the hay is right there?). Carriage horses, on the other hand, get hours and miles of easy walking exercise. Walking while pulling a carriage is low-impact and much easier on the horse’s joints and back than many other forms of equestrian exercise.
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Horses should have contact with people.
This includes contact for building a horse-human relationship, and also appropriate supervision to ensure that horses are eating and drinking as they should be, that horses don’t get hurt, and that horses receive timely veterinary intervention in the event of an emergency. Carriage horses have regular drivers/owners that they spend virtually all their working time with, and not unsurprisingly, carriage horses form very strong bonds with their drivers. (I know a lovely Percheron, Paddy, who has been a New York carriage horse for 11 years with the same owner… Paddy responds to the slightest verbal command or miniscule gesture from his driver – some fine horsemanship!)
No one who has ever owned a horse or has formed a partnership with a horse would deny that their horse looks forward to seeing them when they go to the barn or call them in from the pasture. Why should we doubt that carriage horses feel the exact same way about their owners and drivers? I’ve watched the carriage horses – they clearly have relationships with their human family members. (And science confirms it: http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=18191)
Horses, in addition to companionship, also benefit from human contact insofar as it improves their care. Unlike pastured horses, who may only get checked briefly at feeding time once a day (if at all) and where signs of illness or injury can be left unnoticed and untreated, carriage horses are being monitored ALL THE TIME. Vets are constantly counseling horse owners that the most important thing they can do for their horse’s health is to understand intimately what “normal” is for their individual horse, so that when something is amiss, the owner will be able to tell right away. Carriage drivers spend 40 or 50 hours a week with their horse. They know their every gesture and habit; what normal breathing or sweating is for their horse; when, where and how often their horse prefers to urinate; how often they defecate and in what amounts and consistency; how fast they normally walk – and how fast they walk depending on the time of day, where they’re at, and even the weather; what weather their horse thrives in; what their physical limitations are; what their horse’s eating habits, stall habits and barn mannerisms are like. Carriage drivers KNOW immediately when something’s “not right” for their horse. Horses are all individuals – what in one horse might be a sign of something amiss might in another be perfectly normal. Meanwhile, when carriage drivers aren’t with their horses, the NYC carriage horses enjoy 24 / 7 stablehands or personnel on site, so even at 3 AM, there’s someone to help in the event of an emergency. The stablehands can be just as knowledgeable about a carriage horse’s normal behavior – where and how much they defecate in their stall, what’s normal for the horse’s manure, when and how much the horse lies down, how much the horse eats or drinks normally – and good stablehands help make sure that in the event of the slightest thing being off, the horse gets the proper care and assistance he needs.
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Horses should enjoy the tasks we ask of them and be suitable for the job.
Horses, when used for activities, whether being ridden, jumped, raced, used to herd cattle, driven, etc., should be conformationally suitable and physically fit to do the activity they are being asked to do, and should be appropriately trained for that work. Carriage horses are almost exclusively draft horses, draft horse crosses or Standardbreds, all horses bred to work in harness. Draft horses in particular have been bred over the centuries to want to work with people (think about it: beyond just breeding for strength, the farmer was more likely to breed the horse that was predisposed to calmly and diligently do the work requested of him than to reproduce the horse who was resistant, high-strung, and flighty). They’ve been bred to have more upright shoulders with a defined shoulder for the collar and hames to rest on (this same practical trait that makes drafting easier for draft horse also results in a lower natural headset that those less versed in draft horse conformation interpret as the horse being “tired” or “sad”). These horses excel at and enjoy the slow walking work of pulling a carriage, which is well within their physical capabilities. The average carriage horse weighs anywhere between 1200 and 2000 pounds, and the carriage, empty, weighs about 900 – 1000 lbs. Horses can easily pull three times their own bodyweight all day long on ball-bearing wheels on paved surfaces. Meanwhile, just as some horses are more suited for jumping than western pleasure, the same is true that some horses are suited for working in harness. Just as some horses love to participate in gymkhana, or go on trail rides, or work cattle, some horses really DO love working as carriage horses, and THOSE are the horses that end up doing the job. (Ever tried arguing with a 2000 lb draft horse that doesn’t want to do something? The horse wins.) Anti-carriage-horse activists (such as Elizabeth Forel) have made much of the fact that a certain number of horses “disappear” off the carriage horse license rolls in NYC every year. NYC regulations require that any horse that appears on the streets of NYC in harness MUST be registered with the city, have their hoof branded and only pull a licensed carriage. As a result, some horses are brought into the city (following “test drives” at the horse dealers, usually in PA), registered and licensed, and then tried out in their new job. Some horses simply don’t enjoy the work. They can’t deal with the noise of the city, or don’t have the patience / training to stand in the stands and wait for rides. Or, they simply aren’t suitable for whatever reason. Those horses get returned to the sales barn (and it should be noted that the prices paid for a work-ready carriage horse in NYC are $3000 or $3500… WELL above the prices paid by killbuyers) for the horse dealer to find a better home for, if the horse doesn’t work out in the 30-day trial period.
Sometimes a driver will keep a horse for longer than that and the horse still doesn’t adapt – that horse will find a home in a less busy environment or with a riding home or pleasure driving home or for use in a therapeutic riding program (as far as I know, it is still legal to sell a horse!). I’ve even known a horse or two who have decided after working for years as a carriage horse that they just didn’t want to do it anymore. One horse, Lance, grew tired of city work in Philadelphia and became unruly. Rather than punish him or put him through what he clearly didn’t enjoy, the carriage company found him a home in the country. Lance now lives on a heritage farm in North Carolina, getting treats from kids and teaching the younger horses how to work in harness on the farm. How this is any different than the riding horse owner who might rehome their horse to a trail riding home because their horse is ring sour but they want to ride dressage? What about the person who has a pony with chronic laminitis but all they have is pasture at their house, so they move their horse to a boarding facility with dry lots? All this is done in the best interest of the horse, yet the anti-carriage-horse activists single out the horses that leave the carriage business (or more properly, never even make it as carriage horses in NYC) as being the product of something nefarious going on.
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Horses should have a routine.
Wild roaming bands of horses have been observed to follow the same 24 hour track, day in and day out (meaning, if at dawn the horses are grazing on a particular meadow, if you come back in 4 months at dawn, that’s most likely where you’ll find the horses… if at midday they are in a stand of trees napping in the shade, that’s where they’ll be on most any day at noon). Domestic horses being kept either in stables or on pasture likewise benefit from a routine – routine feeding, routine barn activities, routine turnout, routine exercise. This routine should not be mind-numbing, however – mental stimulation is beneficial to avoid boredom or being barn sour. Carriage horses, working 5, 6, or even 7 days a week, benefit from the routine of their days. They leave the barn in NYC around 9:30 and work for 8 hours or so, coming home around 5 or 5:30. They go to and from the barn on familiar routes and have familiar paths in the park. Yet this is not mind-numbingly boring – every day, despite its routine, is slightly different and interesting. (Nightshift horses go out around 6 PM and come in after midnight.) The comfortable routine of happy horses was in evidence the last time I was in the 52nd St. barn in NYC in the morning… around 10 AM the greater proportion of the nightshift horses were all lying down for some sleep as a group – just like they lie down every morning around that time for a good snooze after the dayshift horses have left for work.
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Horses should always receive humane disposition.
Horse slaughter is an abomination. It is NOT humane euthanasia, it involves the unnecessary suffering of horses in transit and in process, and it is an industry driven purely by the demand for horsemeat for human consumption, not as a means of “disposing” of old or sick horses. Horses, if they need to leave one home, should not be sent to kill auctions where they run the risk of being sold to slaughter. Responsible horse ownership dictates not putting the horse in that position. At the end of their working / riding careers, horses deserve the opportunity to be retired, and when health/care issues dictate, horses, if they do not die of natural causes, should be humanely euthanized to alleviate suffering. Blue Star Equiculture is now the retirement home for NYC carriage horses, if drivers choose to retire their horses to us – and we exist to offer an easy, humane option for working horse owners when their horse’s careers are over. For years, the vast majority of New York City’s carriage horses have been privately rehomed or retired, and horses have gone on to long careers as riding, pleasure driving, or therapeutic riding horses outside the city, or to retirement homes as companion horses. Finding homes for retired carriage horses has not always been easy for carriage horse owners – few own their own farm with space to retire their horses – but carriage horses, even in a “bad” economy, still make wonderful well-trained, good-mannered horses for someone in their later years (and are easier to place than unhandled, untrained, young horses that the horse breeding industry churns out…). Have a tiny fraction of carriage horses ended up at risk for slaughter? Yes, unfortunately (see my discussion of Billy / “Bobby II Freedom” below).
The much larger problem is that fully 1% of ALL of America’s horses (100,000) end up shipping to slaughter every year – and the slaughter industry is not in the least bit driven by the estimated 2,000 – 3,000 commercial carriage horses working in the US. In short, Blue Star Equiculture and our supporters, both within the carriage industry and without, are doing our part to help prevent horses being slaughtered, going to auction, or ending up in bad homes. Blue Star Equiculture supports the bill before the Massachusetts State Legislature to ban horse slaughter in the commonwealth, any similar bill to ban horse slaughter in New York state, and national bills to prohibit the export of horses for slaughter for human consumption.
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What horses DON’T need to have a “good life”
A note on a couple of things that some people would put on their list of things horses “need” but which I personally do not think are a requirement for a horse to have in order to have a good life.
Some people would put access to “pasture” as a necessity. Obviously, some horses CAN’T be put out on pasture because of chronic laminitis. Other horses in other parts of the country (for instance, much of southern California and other arid areas) never see pasture because there is none in the desert or in densely populated areas. Would I say that the vast majority of horses in the L.A. metro area aren’t living good lives for horses, because they don’t have pasture? Of course not – I’d look at the criteria listed above to make that determination. Race horses and sport horses often don’t get much, if any, pasture time during their race or show campaigns – but they do get lots of exercise. The same goes for police horses and the Queen’s Household Cavalry. All these horses do fine – problems in their care arise from deficiencies in the requirements for a good life I’ve outlined above, not from lack of pasture. Pasture can be an important aspect of horse management, but as a horse rescuer, I hear about and see a lot of horse neglect due to uneducated horse owners not understanding that pasture is sometimes not sufficient to nourish their horses, nor does giving a horse access to pasture obviate their other responsibilities in the care of the horse. There are many horse facilities (even “out in the country”) who simply do not have the acreage of good grass to sustain their horses without supplemental hay and grain. As the recent neglect/abuse seizure in Montana has shown, 20,000 acres was not a substitute for the actual care of 400 horses. HOWEVER, New York City carriage horses DO get access at least part of the year (or for some NYC MOST of the year) to grass – with the mandatory 5 week vacation for horses, most NYC carriage owners have two horses they work on one carriage / shift throughout the year, so many horses spend 6 months on turnout and 6 in the city. One carriage driver I know (the maker of the farrier video linked above) owns a farm in the country, and he rotates his horses 6 weeks in the city and 12 weeks off.
Some people would add “Freedom from Asphalt” to the list, as well. Asphalt has been vilified needlessly by anti-carriage-horse activists. The lack of historical knowledge here is pretty astounding. Let’s be clear. Asphalt is a human invention that was designed and installed to make life easier for horses and other draft animals (asphalt is actually thousands of years old, but was first used widespread on roads in the 19th century, BEFORE the invention of the automobile). It was MADE for horses to walk on, to make their jobs easier, and studies have shown that it is orders of magnitude easier for a horse to pull a wagon on wheels on asphalt than it is for the horse to pull the same wagon on dirt, grass, or sandy soil. Carriage horses work mostly at a walk, and there is no scientific evidence that commercial carriage horses working primarily at a walk suffer leg, tendon or hoof injury at a greater rate than any other horse population. (A lot of assertions, as you can see, are just that: assertions, not evidence.)
Another thing that lots of people seem to believe is contradictory to “the good life” for a horse is the horse owner somehow making money from the horse. A horse doesn’t have a bank account. A horse doesn’t care if the driver is charging $34 for a ride or $50 for a ride (and in fact, greater revenue has been needed to keep up with rising hay, grain and fuel costs). The horse only cares about whether or not the above list of needs for the good life get met (food, water, companionship in both horse and human form, consistency, etc). Horses don’t need to be “luxury” items to have a good life. In fact, that money earned from the labor of the horse usually results in better care and a more stable home for the horse. Earning money from a horse is NOT in and of itself problematic, and it does not inevitably lead to “abuse” from greed (in fact, depending directly on the health, performance and appearance of one’s horse tends to result in BETTER care, not worse). Consider ALL the people in the US who make their living from horses – vets, farriers, trainers, riding instructors, professional riders, jockeys, stablehands, grooms, horse show associations, horse dealers (not necessarily the bad guys like kill buyers), auction houses, horse shippers, purveyors of instructional how-to videos, sellers of leopard-print pink saddle pads and matching polo wraps, employees of horse welfare organizations and rescues, documentarians and filmmakers, and, yes, the carriage drivers – ALL these people depend on the horse for their livelihoods. Does that mean that every last person in the horse economy is “exploiting” the horses? I don’t think so. Many people make FAR more money off their horses (or OTHER people’s horses) than a carriage driver makes off of theirs. But no one’s suggesting that, say, top eventing riders like Beezie Madden, are more prone to abusing their horses because of the economic motivation of winning, and therefore prizes for big-time 3-Day Event Competitions should be abolished, all riders should be amateurs, and – just to be sure – we should ban the Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event.
The owners of working carriage horses, especially in the lucrative market in New York, do not end up coming to Blue Star Equiculture (or any other horse rescue), saying they have to give up their horse because they just can’t afford to feed them anymore. So long as the horse or his stablemates have been working to pay board, the owner has been able to provide the horse with food and veterinary care (in fact, providing such care to the horse is REQUIRED, whether by law or simply by necessity to have a horse who is fit to work). Compare this to the owner surrenders we see ALL THE TIME and who call us EVERY DAY – people who bought a horse not realizing how expensive it would be, people who lost their jobs, people who couldn’t afford unexpected vet bills or sudden spikes in hay prices, etc. The owner surrenders often come into the rescue not only having perhaps been underfed (due to lack of funds), but you can be sure that if the owner couldn’t afford to feed the horse appropriately, s/he hasn’t been keeping up with farrier, dental or vet care, either. The OTHER excuse I get all the time from owner surrenders is “I don’t have time for him” or “I can’t do X, Y, or Z with him because he’s not trained / conformationally unfit / I don’t have the facilities at my barn.” These owner surrenders readily admit that they aren’t giving the horse the kind of hands on attention, care, and training that their horse needs to be fit and happy. Carriage horses, on the other hand, are well-trained and worked often.
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"Average Working Life" and long-term outcomes
At the end of the day, we should look at the long-term outcomes for carriage horses. There have, unfortunately, been NO scientific peer-reviewed studies of carriage horses. An informal survey of 130 of the New York City carriage horses was done in 2008 by Dr. John E. Lowe, DVM, a well-respected equine vet. Dr. Lowe found that of 130 carriage horses, 50% were normal weight, 45% were overweight, and 5% were thin, but not unhealthily so. He also found that when trotted on pavement 124 were absolutely sound, while 4 were slightly lame (1 on a scale of 1-5) and 2 were more significantly lame (those two horses were sent home and not allowed to work). Dr. Lowe also remarked on the coat condition of the horses, their overall tractability and behavior, and their lack of respiratory ailments, normally common in stabled horses. (Read his report here: http://www.equiculture.org/Data/Sites/1/carriages/DrLoweJoggingReport.pdf)
A favorite claim on the part of the anti-carriage-horse activists is that carriage horses have shorter life spans than other horses. All evidence that I have seen and experienced is to the contrary. The average working life of a carriage horse seems to be 10 – 15 years if not 20 years, and many – indeed MOST – carriage horses seem to live into their mid- to late-20s or early 30s. I’ve gotten anecdotal data from a couple of carriage drivers around the country providing a sort of “census” of their horses in the barn – age and time on the job – and the old “4 years average working life” does not hold water. When carriage horses have a shorter “working life” than 10-15 years, it’s often because being a carriage horse was not their first “career” – many horses enter the trade after working on a farm or on the road elsewhere; pulling a carriage is particularly suited for older horses, as it is much less strenuous than other activities, such as pulling farming implements or being ridden.
Anecdotally, Blue Star Equiculture has had numerous retired carriage horses in our care: Bud worked 18 years in Philly, before retiring due to idiopathic epilepsy; Jesse worked more than 20 years in Connecticut; Charlie-D. worked 15 years or so in Central Park before retiring because he was older and had developed cataracts in one eye; Carter worked 7 or 8 years in Philly, having worked, I believe, previously in Cincinnati, eventually being retired due to a tendon injury; Tom worked for 7 years in Philadelphia before being retired due to preexisting chronic progressive lymphedema; Mike worked for 5 or 6 years, having come into the business with progressive osteoarthritis in his knees; Rosie followed a hard career as an Amish buggy horse with an easy stint for a few years in New York, before being retired at age 20.
In all of these cases, except Mike’s pre-existing arthritic condition, the horses have been examined by our vet, chiropractor and equine massage therapist and found to be in remarkable health for their age. They have generally shown greater range of motion, less arthritis, and less muscle and tendon contraction than riding horses – even lightly used pleasure riding horses – of a comparable age.
The claims made by anti-carriage-horse activists that working on pavement quickly causes permanent, long-term damage to legs and hooves just hasn’t been borne out in our observation of carriage horses. Is there someone out there with a retired carriage horse that has leg and foot issues? I’m sure there probably is; however, I have noticed that horse owners who like to think that they’ve “rescued” a carriage horse are quick to look for leg and foot injuries or signs of “abuse” that they’ve heard about, often “finding” what they were looking for, instead of signs of a normal aging process.
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On a “rescued” horse who wasn’t: Chance and propaganda
One of the most egregious examples of “this horse was a NYC carriage horse so she MUST have been abused” rhetoric is the example of a black Percheron mare now named Chance (then named Chocolate).
Chocolate had been working as a carriage horse for a short period of time for her owner, Mehmet Akca, who kept Chocolate at West Side Livery on 38th St. In the late spring of 2008, Mehmet needed to leave and go home to his family in Turkey, so RATHER THAN TAKE THE HORSE TO AUCTION, he gave Chocolate to Anita McGill and her husband from Chateau Stables, friends of his, who happen to have a farm in Lancaster County, PA, where they keep their horses when they are not working in the city. Anita took Chocolate to her farm, and called Christy Sheidy of Another Chance 4 Horses, the local horse rescue in the area, with the idea that AC4H, with its large following, would have a better ability to network to find Chocolate a good home, plus Anita would pay all of Chocolate’s expenses while waiting for an adopter, and so any adoption fee that AC4H could collect for her would go to support AC4H’s real rescues in need. AC4H came to Anita’s farm and Chocolate was evaluated for riding and for health and checked out fine.
Soon, AC4H found an adopter for the 7 year old mare, a real-estate agent in Goshen, NY, Jim Nauwens, whose daughter was supposedly going to keep the horse at a farm in West Virginia. Chocolate was picked up and taken to her new home under an adoption contract from AC4H.
Fast forward to September of 2010. An article came out in the NY Daily News written by Amy Sacks, a well-known carriage-horse opponent, about a Percheron mare named “Chance” supposedly “rescued” by Steve Nislick, a real-estate developer and co-president of anti-carriage-horse group NY-CLASS, and his wife, Linda Marcus, in June of 2008. Photos in the paper when compared to photos taken by AC4H on Anita’s farm prove that Chance and Chocolate are the same horse.
In the article, Nislick claims that Chance was rescued from a slaughterhouse – when in fact the horse had never even been to a sale! The article claims that Chance showed signs of having been abused and having hoof problems that “must” have been from walking on the asphalt in NYC, when the AC4H evaluation had shown a healthy, happy horse. Both Anita McGill and the New York Horse and Carriage Association wrote letters of complaint to the Daily News requesting a retraction – or at least a clarification that the horse had never been for sale or gone to an auction, let alone a slaughter broker’s kill pen, but the Daily News took no action.
Independent equine journalist, Patricia Saffran, who writes for Horse Directory, a horse magazine circulated in Manhattan and on Long Island, did some further investigating, going so far as to contact the original adopter and his daughter (who claims she still has Chocolate, but who cannot offer proof, while photos and information from Nislick and Marcus about the mare’s hoof number indicate that their horse Chance is indeed Chocolate) and the two boarding facilities where Chance has been kept since June 2008. In both cases, the farm staff there have told Patricia Saffran that Chance did have hoof problems (which seem to have developed AFTER Chance was adopted out by AC4H) but that she behaved perfectly normally, showing no signs of abuse, and was actually quite friendly.
Linda Marcus - upon reading Patricia Saffran’s exposé that while Chance had in fact been a NYC carriage horse, there was no evidence the horse had been abused and the horse was NEVER in ANY danger of shipping to slaughter - wrote an angry letter to the editor of Horse Directory alluding to alleged other abuses in the carriage industry, but did not deny Patricia Saffran’s assertion that the horse had never been on a feedlot or at auction. Saffran responded to Linda Marcus's letter in this letter to the publisher of Horse Directory.)
Christy Sheidy, of Another Chance 4 Horses, in February again confirmed in an email in February 2011 to Anita McGill that Chance was never in danger. "We have pictures of us pickingup the horse at your place. The horse was NEVER in any danger. It's clear that this is not true. [...] How can a horse they adopted from us be in immediate danger? That in itself doesn't make sense. Does it not bother them that they are lying about this situation or are they truly ignorant?"
Despite NY-CLASS’s continued use of Chance as a “poster pony” for carriage horse abuse, all evidence indicates that Chance was not abused, that she was not rescued from slaughter, and that the people who own her know that now (whether or not they knew so at the time they acquired the horse). Still, in a crusade against the carriage horses in an effort to get the real estate the stables are located on, little things like facts don’t seem to matter much.
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On the subject of a horse named Billy (aka Bobby II Freedom)
***UPDATE - May 21, 2011 - Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages has objected to three points in this section. Please click here to read our response.***
I promised I’d talk about Billy (aka Bobby II Freedom), the NYC carriage horse who was indeed actually rescued from a Lancaster County horse dealer’s feed lot (the broker was Brian Moore, who buys and sells horses at the New Holland auction and other auctions across the country, and who has a contract with a Canadian slaughterhouse to deliver two truckloads of horses for slaughter every week).
Billy belonged to NYC carriage driver Sebastian Spina, who boards his horses at the 38th St. carriage barn. Billy had been on turnout on a farm in Lancaster County, enjoying his vacation, when Spina decided that he did not want to bring the horse back into the city – he had a new horse he could work instead. Spina gave Billy to the Amish farmer who was boarding his horses and told him to do whatever he wanted with the horse – work him, sell him, give him to someone who needed him, whatever. So, the farmer sold him in June 2010, and the horse ended up with horse dealer and kill buyer Brian Moore (it’s not clear whether or not he sold Billy through the auction ring at New Holland or if he sold him directly to Brian Moore – either way, Billy ended up on Brian Moore’s feedlot).
Brian Moore works with Christy Sheidy for AC4H – he allows her to come to his feedlot and photograph some of the horses there to list on the internet and sell with the idea that those horses would be “saved” from slaughter. (At no point, however, has it been demonstrated that Brian Moore is shipping fewer horses to Canada as a result of his arrangement with AC4H… if anything, he may be buying more horses with the money he gets from the broker program, and still shipping two truckloads a week. As any anti-horse-slaughter advocate will tell you, there is a LOT of debate about whether or not to work with kill buyers after an auction to prevent horses from shipping, or if that enables them to buy more horses for slaughter, but that’s a story for another space.) *Elizabeth Forel was "anonymously" tipped off about a horse with a NYC hoof brand on the lot.* [UPDATE - This is a correction from an earlier version. Read more about the correction here.] Equine Advocates and Elizabeth Forel immediately paid Billy’s $600 purchase price.
The New York Horse and Carriage Association also called AC4H to find out the identity of the horse from his hoof number, and would have bought him to safety had he not already been purchased. Christy Sheidy later recounted that in all her years of doing horse rescue, she had never had a breed registry, showing organization or ANYBODY (no Jockey Club, no AQHA, etc.) ever contact her specifically about one of “their” horses ending up in trouble until the New York Horse and Carriage Association tried to look out for one of the NYC carriage horses. (For the record, Sebastian Spina is not, nor has ever been, a member of the New York Horse and Carriage Association).
Meanwhile, Billy’s new owners were crowing about how they “at last!” had saved a New York City carriage horse. They quickly renamed Billy “Bobby II Freedom” after the one and only other NYC carriage horse Equine Advocates had ever given a retirement home to. In news articles and press releases published immediately upon his purchase, it was promised that as soon as Bobby’s vet exams were complete, they would be releasing all kinds of damning evidence about how terribly Bobby had been broken down from toiling in the city. Videos went viral on the Internet of Bobby getting off the truck in Chatham, NY and rolling in his new pasture, along with comments and captions about how this was the “first” freedom, grass and opportunity to roll that Bobby had ever had (as opposed to the far more accurate “this is what horses normally do when put in a new enclosure”; Billy had, after all, just come from the turnout farm). Commenters speculated on the scar around Bobby’s neck and what sort of “hell” he must of have gone through in the horrible West Side Livery Stables (never mind that the scar clearly dates to before Billy worked in NYC, as there is NO equipment that would ever make such a scar on him used in the carriage industry, and that the creation of such as scar while in the city would have resulted in an investigation from the ASPCA). When Billy immediately responded to his new name, “Bobby,” this was presented as evidence that he had only ever been called “hey, you!” or “hey, shithead!” (I am NOT making this up - this comes straight out of the Coalition to Ban Horse-drawn Carriages newsletter - their exact wording is "Susan Wagner, president of Equine Advocates, said Bobby is a joy and everyone loves him. He is very sweet, gentle and smart. He knows his name, Bobby, and we all think that he was never called Billy. He was probably called 'hey you' - or 's---head' or something equally as lovely. Bobby is still getting in touch with his true equine nature. When he first came to the sanctuary, he would stand still waiting to get tacked up as a carriage horse." UPDATE: May 21, 2011 - Elizabeth Forel did not want to believe that she had written such a thing. Read more about her objection here.) and that he was responding to the love in the voices of the Equine Advocates volunteers because he knew he was loved and safe at last. (This touchy-feely, pat-on-the-back interpretation was given instead of the obvious and logical conclusion that any horseperson would draw, which is that Billy knew his name was “Billy” and when he heard someone addressing him as “Bobby” it was close enough to his real name that he understood that people were saying his name, Billy. After all, both names are two syllables, both begin with a “B” and both end with an “eeee” sound.)
In the end, the actual vet reports that were supposed to show Bobby’s “poor” condition were never forthcoming, and in recent interviews, Susan Wagner, president of Equine Advocates, has admitted that Bobby is a very friendly and personable horse, which must be due to his treatment in the city by people who cared about him. (She tries to cling to her anti-carriage-horse stance, though, when she attributes the kindness he must have known in New York exclusively to anti-carriage-horse protesters and the general public, and not to the more significant carriage drivers and stablehands who spent far, far more time with Billy in his working days.)
Have horse advocacy organizations used Bobby’s story to illuminate the perils that ANY horse can face when they are no longer working or wanted and are given away with no restrictions as to what happens to them? (The same story gets played out every day on Craigslist when horse owners list their horses as “free to a good home” and don’t bother to check out where the horse is going to ensure their safety.)
Have they used his example as a cautionary tale to horse owners everywhere that giving a horse away to someone who they think will give the horse a good home makes the owner just as complicit through carelessness in what befalls the horse afterwards?
Have they talked about the fact (VERY useful to horse owners) that Bobby’s story illustrates the importance of branding (freeze branding, tattooing, hoof branding) your horse to increase the horse’s odds of being saved if they end up in the kill pen? After all, no one would have looked twice at Billy had he not had that number on his hoof telling everyone who he was. (The same holds true for the thousands of thoroughbreds and standardbreds who go through auction, who can be saved by contacting the horse’s former connections.)
Have they used his story to work to end the horror of horse slaughter?
No. Instead, Equine Advocates and Elizabeth Forel have attempted, without evidence, to use Bobby’s story to accuse the carriage horse industry in New York of abuse, cruelty and neglect. Rather than working to end slaughter, they have exploited a Percheron/Standardbred gelding named Billy to raise thousands of dollars to lobby to end the carriage business in New York City. [UPDATE: May 21, 2011 - Elizabeth Forel claims that she does not lobby and that they have not raised money from Bobby used to further their campaign against carriage horses. This is demonstrably false. See the proof here.]
Should Sebastian Spina be vilified for not taking the responsibility of making sure Bobby’s new owner didn’t sell him? Absolutely – NO horse owner in this day and age should be ignorant of where their horse might end up when being sold to a horse dealer.
Should the entire carriage industry in New York City or elsewhere be BANNED because of the carelessness of ONE owner? Absolutely NOT. (I know of many, many riding stables who have had owners who have sent lesson horses to slaughter…. Should we ban horseback riding lessons and punish the good horsemen and horsewomen out there, and take away their horses, putting them at risk?)
Can you imagine the good that could be done for ALL horses, including the rare case of a horse like Bobby, if, instead of working for a carriage horse ban, the anti-carriage-horse activists focused their efforts instead on passing an anti-slaughter bill in New York state? Spina could have been punished under such a law, and, more importantly, the shipment of horses direct to slaughter from the auction Unadilla, NY could be stopped, layover feedlots on the New York – Canadian border could be shut down, and THOUSANDS of horses – horses not as lucky as Bobby – could be saved.
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Lots of people, at this stage in a discussion about carriage horses, just throw up their hands and say, “OK, OK, the drivers take care of the horses and they’re not abused – but I just can’t get past the idea of the horses being out in traffic, breathing all those fumes and getting hit by cars.”
Let’s address the “toxic fumes” first. The anti-carriage-horse activists like to use the phrase “nose-to-tailpipe existence,” as if the horse’s nose was a foot off the ground, right behind vehicles. This simply isn’t the case. Horses in New York City are also working either in Central Park (where exhaust can diffuse in the open space of the park and there is less traffic than elsewhere) or in what one can term “street canyons.” Air-quality studies done in Nantes, France in 1999 demonstrated that on average, in street canyons, the air quality in the road was no worse nor better than on the adjacent sidewalks (in some cases, depending on prevailing wind and weather conditions, air quality in the street was actually BETTER in traffic than on the sidewalk or inside neighboring buildings). According to the American Lung Association, New York City has substantially LESS ozone pollution than, say, Hunterdon County, NJ. (I chose Hunterdon County, as that county is where the boarding stable where Mr. Nislick keeps Chance and his eventing horses. Those horses breathe worse air than horses in Manhattan.) I will not deny that air pollution is a problem – but it’s a problem that affects ALL of us, and affects children and the elderly more than it does carriage horses. (Also note that neither Dr. Lowe nor I have heard carriage horses coughing as a result of chronic airway damage.)
It is also undeniably true that there is traffic – and a LOT of it – in Manhattan. New York is certainly congested – and cars kill over 100 pedestrians every year in the city. One person dies in a car accident in the United States every 13 minutes. Indeed, getting in a car is probably the riskiest thing by far any of us do; still, we do it and we assume with reasonable certainty that we will make it to the grocery store and back without getting in an accident. The safety record of carriage horses working in New York City is MUCH better, however (much has been made of the fact that New York City has more carriage accidents than any other city – not surprising since nearly 1 in 10 commercial carriage horses works in New York City). In over 30 years, NYC carriage horses have made about 2 million round trips to and from Central Park and given millions more rides within the Park. In those millions of trips, NO human beings have been killed as a result of carriage accidents, and only THREE horses (Chester in 1985, Tony in 1990, and Spotty in 2006) have been killed in accidents resulting from collisions with traffic. (Another horse, Smoothie, spooked in a non-traffic incident, went into shock and died.) Three fatalities out of millions and millions of trips? That’s right on par with commercial large airplane safety, with 0.3 fatal accidents per million flights (the statistics are equal if carriage horses are assumed to do a conservative 3.5 rides per shift, on average… often they do many more).
Driving a large, slow moving carriage is demonstrably SAFER in the congested traffic of Manhattan than it is elsewhere. Why? Drivers are more attentive in the city – they expect pedestrians jaywalking, trucks stopping and unloading unexpectedly, or slow moving traffic. (Are there distracted drivers? Certainly. But that’s why there are laws about talking or texting on the phone while driving.)
The proximity of horse to car seems to be what bothers people when watching carriage horses in low-speed, congested traffic, and they perceive that closeness to be more dangerous than if the horse were enclosed in a flimsy aluminum horse trailer and hurtling along an Interstate at 65 mph. A quick google search for “fatal horse trailer accident” will reveal hundreds of incidents – far more horses are killed going to weekend horse shows than in New York City traffic. Yet horse owners think nothing of popping their beloved horse in the trailer and heading out on the road, despite the nightmare stories of dead and maimed horses from trailer accidents.
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On the Carriage Horse Stable Buildings Themselves
Anti-carriage-horse groups make a bit to-do about the carriage stables being in “converted, dilapidated tenement houses unfit for human habitation.” This is patently false and easily disprovable by checking the CoA’s on any of the four carriage barns (as if just LOOKING at the architectural features wouldn’t also tell you that the buildings were clearly built as stables). All four carriage stables were built in the 19th and early 20th centuries to house horses – and some of them have housed horses continuously since they were built, although their interiors have undergone repeated renovations and improvements.
The Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages also insists that New York City carriage stables are firetraps.
The truth is that EVERY carriage barn in New York City now has an up-to-code (or beyond) sprinkler system for fire control. MANY rural barns don’t have this luxury. Fire trucks from the NYFD can be at the carriage barns in less than 3 minutes, because they are fortunate enough to be located in the city. Also, staff is on hand 24 hours a day, which helps in notifying the NYFD in the event of a barn fire and beginning to evacuate horses. Compare this situation to a rural barn, with NO sprinkler system, outdated wiring, unattended at some distance from the nearest house, and miles from the nearest VOLUNTEER fire station.
Carriage horses in New York City are MUCH safer from the terror of a barn fire than virtually any other stabled horses on Earth.
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“So, what would be the harm in seizing all the carriage horses in NYC and putting them in sanctuaries?”
First things first – carriage horse owners own their horses. They do not belong to the city and they have NOT been mistreated or abused, so there is no legal basis for seizing them (if there were, the ASPCA would have shut down the NYC carriage industry already). For this reason, NO ONE has any jurisdiction to seize these horses or tell carriage horse owners what to do with them (would you ever want anyone to have the same jurisdiction over your dog, if they disagreed with how you took care of your pet?). So it’s not a simple matter of just saying, oh, the carriage horses are banned, hand them over please!
It’s fairly ludicrous to imagine that many, if any, carriage drivers would have any interest in driving a reproduction, vintage electric car. Carriage drivers are not “just some taxi drivers.” Carriage drivers have devoted their lives in service to the horse – because they LOVE horses, not cars.
I imagine that some carriage owners will do whatever they can to keep their horses – unfortunately, though, they may not be able to, or may not be able to keep their horses close enough to them to continue to have them. Carriage horses would no doubt be sold to work in other cities where the odds of the horses continuing to receive good care (through good income) are much better than in many private homes. Other horses might be sold to less good homes, and of course any time a horse is on the market, they are in danger of being sold into the slaughter pipeline or neglected. Horses leaving the industry en masse would definitely put the horses, currently safe and well-cared for, at risk for poorer care.
Even if sanctuaries DID exist for the NYC carriage horses, and even assuming they all could go there, why would anyone want to warehouse unworked a 9-year-old, healthy horse for the rest of his life? That’s no life for a horse (see requirements involving exercise and human contact). All of the requirements for caring for a draft horse can quickly become very expensive (as we at Blue Star Equiculture know, caring for as many as we do at our farm). Banning the carriage horses would take away 200 homes for horses and also take away 200 spots for horses that really need help and who are TRULY in danger of neglect, abuse or slaughter. Banning the carriage horses in New York does NOTHING to help horses. It does not lessen horse abuse. It does not prevent horse slaughter. In fact, it makes things WORSE for horses.
Blue Star Equiculture is in the business of finding more good, stable homes for horses, not taking them away.
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Working Horses are the Way
Horses and humans have been working in partnership for 6000 years, and for the overwhelming majority of that time (all but say the last 50 to 100 years), they have been mostly been working with us in harness, rather than under saddle.
Horses BUILT New York City, and Frederick Law Olmsted built Central Park for carriage horses – neither of them would be the same without horses.
At this time of ecological uncertainty, working horses offer an environmentally – and economically – sustainable form of transportation and labor. Teamsters (and I don’t just mean the teamsters in the union by the same name, y’know the NYC carriage drivers) across the country can tell you all about the advantages of using real horsepower instead of tractors. Progressive municipalities in Europe and in the United States have started using horses to collect recycling, deliver compost, water municipal gardens and more. There is potential to grow the population of urban horses, and in so doing offer ever more homes for horses where they are a valued and treasured part of our community.
It has been shown time and time again that people don’t care about things that they don’t have experience with. People don’t care about animal welfare unless they have experience with animals. For many children in New York, the ONLY horse they’ve ever seen is the healthy carriage horse in Central Park that they got to pet and feed a carrot to. The future of horses depends on the future of our children and whether or not they grow up in a world that values horses as our partners in civilization or in a world that treats horses as disposable luxury items who belong “out there” and not “right here” with people.
Horses are a part of who we are as a people – yet somehow society has lost its way. 100,000 horses are sent to slaughter every year. The BLM is rounding up wild mustangs at unprecedented rates. Horse owners are struggling to make ends meet. The rescues and sanctuaries are full and struggle to raise donations to care for the horses they currently have. And as a result of radical animal rights activists who don’t understand that a horse in harness is NOT being abused, animal-loving people are being conned into destroying the lives and homes of 200 working horses in New York who otherwise would not need the help of horse rescues or horse sanctuaries, as their care is provided for them through their honest work. It’s incredible that we’ve forgotten in only a generation that horses have ALWAYS been in the city – ask someone who remembers getting their milk delivered to them by the magnificent dairy horses!
We would lose a bit of our soul if the horses weren’t there with us. A French tourist on the Grand Army Plaza on May 1st, passing the beautiful Central Park carriage horses said it best – “Ahhhh, the horses…. They are the face of the city.”
Christina Hansen, Co-Founder
Pamela Rickenbach, Co-Founder and Executive Director
Dr. Stephen Purdy, DVM, Board Member
Paul Moshimer, Facilities and Operations Manager