Nothing could be more romantic than a Christmas ride around a picturesque town square, or even New York City’s famed Central Park, right? The clop of hooves on pavement, the jingle of harness, the feeling of being transported back to an earlier time when proud carriage horses were the primary mode of transportation. Snuggling up under a warm blanket with a loved one, you can watch the sights of the city go by as you take a brief spin in a sparkling carriage with a folksy man at the reins.
Wrong, actually. Urban carriage horses continue to be used in cities around the world not as a legitimate method of transportation, but as a tourist attraction, and it’s a form of needless cruelty. Horses are not inanimate objects, but living beings, and they’re extremely sensitive to their surroundings. Cities are terrible places for horses, between smog, constant loud noise, hard pavement, and limited space to run free and engage in natural equine behaviors like rolling and playing.
Instead, carriage horses spend their lives in stables except for when they stand on the street waiting for fares or pull people around designated routes, which often require them to share the road with vehicle traffic. It’s dangerous for the horses and their passengers alike; horses may bolt if frightened by something in their environment, and in a collision between a carriage and a motor vehicle, the carriage is unlikely to fare well. In the winter, horses live in ice, salt, and cold; in the summer, they’re at severe risk of heat stress.
Back in the stables, carriage horses develop stress behaviors like chewing on themselves, biting handlers, or gnawing at structural components of the stable. Some kick the walls, injuring themselves as they try to express their frustration with the environment. While carriage horse operators claim their animals are treated well, it’s hard to argue that their living environment is safe and comfortable, or that stress reactions are normal and healthy. Many carriage horses show signs of stress, like appearing “checked out” on the streets.
There’s no reason to keep using urban carriage horses; organizations like NYCLASS, which is lobbying to ban carriage horses in New York City, point out that there are plenty of non-equine alternatives, like vintage cars, which could be used to provide people with a fun, romantic, and interesting taste of the past without endangering animals. Carriage horse welfare is a perennial issue and despite the fact that numerous groups have actively lobbied against the continued use of carriage horses, they continue to be popular attractions.
This is both because tour operators invest in opposing such campaigns, and because many members of the public don’t know better and aren’t aware that they should demand alternatives. Visitors need to know that they should steer clear of carriage horses, and why; if you want to do something for the animals this Christmas, share this article and encourage your friends to do the same. End the demand for carriage horses, and tour operators will stop supplying.
Photo credit: Tiffany