Have you ever imagined what the life of a carriage horse is like?
You can find the carriage horse industry in many major cities throughout the globe. It is a paradox. It’s as if a little piece of the 18th century crossed a time warp and ended up in the middle of traffic on a busy city street. The romantic image it stirs up may be delightful for humans but what about the horses?
Anatomically speaking, a horse’s nose is held about three feet from the ground — in proximity with tailpipes. Have you driven behind a bus lately? Even when driving in an automobile your first reaction is to pass the vehicle so you can breathe better. And that’s with the windows up! Imagine if your nose were right next to the exhaust and you had to breathe it in day in and day out.
Carriage horses are forced to do just that. Constant exposure to obnoxious fumes causes lung cancer and other respiratory diseases as well as accelerated aging. Their legs — walking only on pavement — can become lame. In summer asphalt can reach 200 degrees. In the winter the wind chill factor can make the city streets unbearable.
At night the work-weary horses are not necessarily stabled in a barn with dirt, hay and fresh air. In New York City, for example, they walk up steps to be locked in small cells stories above the traffic and noise-infested city streets. No bucolic pastures for carriage horses.
Why is a Ban on Horse-Drawn Carriages Necessary?
In the animal kingdom horses are not predators, they are prey. They run from the perception of danger which includes loud noises. A Newsweek report from a few years ago quotes Holly Cheever, an equine veterinarian — who has worked for over 20 years as the primary equine adviser for two states — including New York. “Horses are herbivores whose unique response to stress is to run their butts off. Because of that, in a split second you can have a horse go from being half asleep to being 1,200 pounds crashing through traffic.”
The bottom line is safety — actually lack thereof. City conditions are not safe for horses and as evidenced by multiple accidents involving carriage horses, the safety of humans is at risk, too. The average working life of a carriage horse in New York City is less than four years. The average working life of a police horse is fourteen years.
When they can no longer manage the daily grind of the carriage trade they are not necessarily retired to pasture. Many are sold to slaughter for their meat which is shipped internationally to places that consider horse meat a delicacy. Ironic that there remains a cultural taboo about eating horse meat in the U.S. but the slaughtering of horses for human consumption elsewhere is acceptable.
Award Winning Documentary
Danny Moss directed the documentary Blinders: The Truth Behind the Tradition. It is an expose on New York City’s carriage trade that has been providing tours through Central Park since the 1930′s. Originally shown on television, this 2008 film won awards from the International Wildlife Film Festival, Artivist Film Festival, Visionfest and ReelHeART International Film Festival.
Philadelphia Fights Back
Animal activists throughout the U.S. and internationally are working to ban the carriage trade industry. Philadelphia’s Peace Advocacy Network (PAN) demonstrates weekly during tourist season in front of the hack line. They distribute information to educate people on the innate cruelty to horses forced into this life. Saturday, PAN held the first annual ‘Walk for the Horses.”
About 20 people, holding signs and passing out information calling for a ban, gathered and walked the route carriage horses travel. Some pedestrians gladly took the flyers and gave a thumbs up sign encouraging the effort. Predictably, there were some who shouted obscenities and other inappropriate things like “eat meat.”
Perhaps the most touching thing to happen was a little girl — about 7 years old — riding in a horse drawn carriage with her family. She wore a purple tee shirt and upon reading the signs she covered her eyes and put her head down. She was obviously distressed as her family tried to comfort her. Children have an uncanny ability to recognize injustice. Perhaps her experience will get her thinking; perhaps that was the day a future animal activist was born…
Philadelphians: contact Mayor Michael Nutter (215-686-2181) email@example.com
and Council Member Frank DiCicco (215-686-3458) firstname.lastname@example.org
What People are Doing in New York City
In New York City the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages — a committee of the Coalition for New York City Animals, Inc. — actively protests against the trade. Their website has a multitude of educational information on why a ban is needed. They are seeking more volunteers to help the effort.
WAR (Win Animal Rights) is another advocacy group that routinely demonstrates against horse-drawn carriages in NYC. The dedication exhibited by passionate animal advocates is extraordinary.
What You Can Do in Your City
Do you live in a city that allows horse-drawn carriages and would like to protect the horses? Seek out like-minded citizens to protest and propose legislation to ban it. If there are none, consider organizing one. The horses need you.
Photo of a Philadelphia horse-drawn carriage behind a bus: by Megan Drake