The Horses Aren’t the Only Ones Wearing Blinders

Elizabeth Bennett

business-man-wearing_~dpr0002Strolling along Central Park South, one is overcome by the rancid smell of horse urine and manure.  Looking up, there are ornate carriages that mimic fairy tales and majestic horses who would love to go for a stroll.  To many, this is picturesque and the perfect addition to a romantic getaway in New York City.  But if you look closer… you will see that most of these horses look scared, tired, injured, and just want a break from their nine hour workdays.

There has long been public outcry against horse drawn carriages in New York City.  Numerous protests, dangerous accidents, and the death of countless horses have not been enough to convince City Hall that the time has come for these rides to end.  Horse drawn carriage rides have been banned in many cities in the United States and various countries and New York City remains behind the trend.  It seems to me that it would be common sense that these horses must be in pain and that they surely could not enjoy pulling a carriage along a busy, uneven street full of loud noises, speeding cars, and flashing lights, as this clearly goes against a horse’s nature.  However, many do not stop to think about this before boarding their magical, romantic carriage ride.  This is not to say that these people, many of them tourists, are bad people who care little for animals- many of them likely love animals and are drawn to this form of entertainment for that purpose, not thinking about how cruel the practice really is.  As with most forms of animal cruelty, the cruelty part is usually as well hidden as possible.

Recently, in September, a taxi driver lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a horse drawn carriage.  The horse escaped, but was quickly recaptured, which is good because there is a great chance that a horse running wild through New York City could really cause some damage to his or herself and to others.  In August 2008, horses waiting to pull a wedding carriage were spooked and caused massive destruction and injuries.  In September 2007, a horse was spooked by a street performance and ran into a tree past another horse, who in turn was startled and ran into traffic.  The first horse suffered fatal injuries and the second was severely wounded.  Looking through PETA’s list of horse drawn carriage accidents, where the above disasters are mentioned, there are numerous incidents involving spooked horses colliding with automobiles.  Not only is it cruel to subject these horses to a life where they are deprived of grazing, laying down to sleep, normal interaction with other horses, and relaxation of any kind, it is very dangerous to keep these horses in the city.

The recent movie Blinders documents the cruelty surrounding carriage horses in New York City.  This movie won numerous awards at various film festivals and will hopefully increase awareness of the truth about horse drawn carriages in cities.  Though protests against these carriages are common, they are often met with opposition from carriage operators and tourists who like to believe the horses are being treated properly.  As usual, in this debate activists concerned with animal health and safety are brushed off as being extremists.  It is my hope that this city will wake up and realize the harm this industry causes to animals and the dangers it poses in a busy city.  How many more destructive incidents involving horse drawn carriages will it take for this to happen?  This issue was brought before City Council by Queens Council Member Tony Avella as Intro 658-A and a highly attended public hearing was held on January 30, 2009, in which arguments were made for both sides.  No further hearings have been held on the issue and a date has not yet been set for a City Council vote on this proposed ban.

12 Responses

  1. You are so right. Horses have no place in New York City. I’m sure the tourists have no idea how cruel this is to the horses. Carriage drivers can trade in their horse drawn model for one of those bicycle ones and they can haul the tourists around Central Park themselves.

  2. This article is filled with hysteria, distortions, and outright LIES.

    Our safety record is STELLAR – 68 carriages operating approx 300 days a year /25 years = over 2 MILLION trips in traffic back and forth to the stables. (this does not even include all of the actual rides done!)

    We have had THREE equine fatalities due to traffic accidents in those 25 years.

    NO equine pursuit can claim a similar ratio (500 horses died onracetracks just since the Kentucky Derby last year – hell, 100 HUMANS were hit by cars and killed in 2008 in NYC alone)

    While each of the three horse deaths was a tragedy (I knew each one – Chester ‘85, Tony ‘90, and Spotty ‘07), there is nothing in life with no risk, & certainly not in human/horse activities. Many, many more horses are injured or killed in eventing, jumping, racing, polo, etc. The humaniacs would eradicate all horses in order to eradicate all risk – something I do believe they could live with, & indeed, it’s something that many of them actively seek. They drag out the same ghoulish pics from these accidents on every website & at every demonstration, sometimes even using pictures of dead or injured horses from other parts of the country and saying they were in NYC!

    Anybody hell-bent on putting carriages out of business should hop on down to the auction & buy a slaughter-bound horse and care for it for the rest of its natural life. That would actually be doing something to help the horses, not hurt them.

    The epidemic of abandoned horses across the country is due to what is being called a “perfect storm” of a slow economy, highfeed prices, &recent national outlawing of slaughterhouses. This is a mammoth crisis – 1000s of horses being left to waste away in fields &paddocks, or surrendered to over-crowded rescues. Closing down a business where horses lead content & exceedingly reasonable existences will only ADD to this problem.

    A well-loved, cared-for horse with a job is a lucky horse.

    Unfortunately for us and our horses here in NYC, we are one of the humaniacs’ primo targets, as we fit the bill perfectly: a small, high-profile industry with very limited resources. You can see what an excellent opportunity our industry not only for misguided people, but for targeted fundraising by large AR groups like PETA.

    Many of the AR people would rather see a horse dead than have a job. To them, a carriage horse doing what it was bred to do, and living a comfortable, content existence alongside his driver, is no different from Michael Vick and a pile of mutilated fighting dogs or undercover horror videos revealing grotesque cruelties at factory farms.

    Indeed, humaniacs have made public statements comparing the carriage horse trade to the enslavement of people of African descent, and the Holocaust of the Jewish people during WWII.

    Can any of you imagine what it is like for someone like me – a lifelong horse person, dedicated to my horses in every way – to be maligned and vilified like this? Even if you are only a pet owner – imagine someone constantly lying and distorting how you treat your pet, and then going public with it.

    There are no horse-torturing monsters in our business, no matter what any of them say.

    And while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, they are not entitled to their own facts.

    The welfare of the horses is what the decent-minded, casual observer is truly interested in, and for good reason. The horse-drawn carriages are a New York City icon; they are ambassadors to our visitors, and the horses themselves are working animals that are entitled to proper care and good handling.

    Fortunately, our record reflects exactly that. Our horses lead exceedingly reasonable and content lives. They each receive a superior, formulated diet, occupy roomy box stalls, receive vet & farrier care, and are groomed and bathed regularly. This amounts to food, shelter, and medical care – which many CHILDREN in this city do not have.
    Beyond these basics, they are loved by their owners/drivers; they receive affection, treats, and human interaction everyday.
    Every stable has a sprinkler system in case of fire, and every stable has 24/7 stablemen. We are overseen by 5 city agencies, and not one WEEK goes by (and sometimes, day) that our horses are not checked by the ASPCA or the Dept of Health. (Let’s see Child Protective Services match that record)
    The horses receive rotation turnout several times a year on farms in both Upstate NY and PA.

    When the time comes, we retire them to loving, forever homes; some of the owners retire them themselves on privately owned land. I personally have retired 3 horses, one of which is still living the life of Riley after being retired 6 years ago in South Jersey at a bank president’s home.

    If anyone wants to HELP horses, get down to that auction in New Holland PA, that occurs every Monday, and BUY one of the dozens of horses that are going to slaughter.

    You people should put your MONEY where your MOUTH is, and actually HELP a horse, instead of handwringing about horses who already have homes and people to care for them!!

    WAKE UP AND GROW UP.

    http://thewhiffletreenyc.blogspot.com/

  3. While I will leave this comment up b/c it does raises substantive issues that bear further discussion, its tone is unfortunate and sets a poor example for future responses. Towards that end and from henceforth, uncivil discourse and any comments that insult or attack will be deleted. This goes for this thread and all others in the blog.
    Thanks,
    David

  4. I’m just curious, David – what do you think would be the proper and normal response to enduring vile accusations, distortions, and lies about your character and how you conduct your daily life? Because after almost 30 years of attacks and insults on MY character,and those of my co-workers, I think it exceedingly reasonable that a thoughtful and fact-filled response in my defense be peppered with a few less-than-civil ripostes against my accusers. It’s only human. Not only do you accuse us of cruelty, but you accuse us of HIDING it – it’s sounds positively diabolical, how could anyone not knee-jerk against a charge like that?
    You sound like a reasonable and intelligent person – I ask you to consider what i said.
    And thank you for leaving my post up, it’s more than some other blogs have done.

  5. I guess it would depend on what I wanted to accomplish. You may not believe it, but there are well-informed people of good faith who disagree with your position. Are you trying to persuade them? Personally, I have never had any luck convincing people with stridency and insults. Sometimes, though, through information and respectful rhetoric, I do. But that’s not really the issue here; carriage horses are. Your comments and views are as welcome as anyone else’s and we will all keep it civil.

  6. Hi Michaleen,

    You certainly mount a convincing self-defense. I have been unfairly accused and lied about by neighbors on occasion regarding my dogs, and it is a horrible feeling, knowing I cannot change their minds nor stop their false rumor-mongering. So I know how you feel.

    I’ve also acted imperfectly toward my dogs on occasion, and have suffered guilt pangs because of it. I’ve had to listen to the Man Upstairs to find out how to improve my treatment of my dogs. As a result have made a concerted effort to change my less-noble thoughts and ways, for the benefit of my dogs. My humbling learning experiences have blessed us all.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to people looking at one another’s habits, occupations, child-rearing skills and animal care, one person’s perception of words like “excellent” and “loving” and “adequate” and “roomy” can vary greatly from another person’s perception of those same words — and their translation into reality.

    So, while you truly believe that your love for the carriage horses can’t be topped and that these carriage horses have the best lives possible, another individual may have an entirely different concept of top-notch treatment of horses, of what it means to truly love a horse, of what the signs of a tired-looking or scared-looking horse are. And that individual may see obvious-to-him indicators that NYC carriage horses are not being loved for who they are, but rather for what they can do for their drivers/owners. To wit, make money!

    Often someone who sees carriage horses out and about puts himself mentally in the horses’ hooves and asks himself if HE would like to be driving without protection on the loud, dangerous streets of NYC for nine hours a day in all kinds of weather. His answer is “no.”

    Maybe his answer doesn’t take into consideration that horses are built for being outdoors in cold temperatures and rain and snow, and humans aren’t. So you might rightly object to his answer.

    That same person might ask himself if he were a horse, whether he’d like to stand and walk in a heavy harness day in and day out. Such work was standard practice in the days when all horses were pulled something on wheels! But, it might be argued, society’s conception of and treatment of horses has evolved since those days. Horses now seem to be granted higher purposes, they seem to be recognized for having their own interests met, and they seem to be trained more humanely. Even the natural hoof care trend is evidence that people feel it is right to put themselves, literally, in the hooves of the horse, and imagine how it feels to walk or run in blood-and-motion-constricting shoes.

    What I’m saying is: the average horse owner and even non-horse owner sees horses differently than in previous generations. Horses are largely regarded today as companions, friends, partners, even pasture ornaments, rather than work slaves.

    Because of this evolution of the human-horse relationship, many people today make the needs of the horses of primary importance. They feel that when horses are used by humans to make money (carriage rides, racetracks, trail riding, rodeo) or to gain power and prestige and medals (at horse shows), the needs and desires of the horses inevitably become secondary.

    You can see how it’s possible to think that way, can’t you? When a living being is treated as property, his/her needs and desires and rights may be thought by the property-owner to be of less importance than the property-owner’s needs and desires and rights.

    In fact, the owner’s rights always trump the rights of the property, unless laws designed to punish abuse and neglect of that living “property” are passed and enforced.

    Many horse lovers today believe that horses need and deserve to RUN FREE, with daily access to pastures or at least to paddocks, rather than be forced to labor for someone else’s profit on city streets in the day.

    I truly desire to feel your feelings and understand where you’re coming from Michaleen. I wish I could say that I agree with you, that you’re getting a bum rap.

    Unfortunately, I’ve seen too much abuse of horses that others call “good” treatment. I’ve also noticed that those who defend the horse-and-carriage business, or any other business involving animals, tend to have a stake in that trade. In other words, they’re unable to see it, or their own motives, totally objectively. Whereas those who truly believe that the conditions for horses need improvement, or believe that certain industries using horses need to be abolished, tend to NOT have anything to gain from their position.

    I have to disagree with you that they are humaniacs. I believe they love horses and humans equally, and want the best for both, as long as the best for the human isn’t at the expense of the horse.

    It’s sad that there is, in some circles, a feeling of competition between humans and animals. I think we’re both created for the purpose of feeling and displaying purely unselfish regard and respect for one another. I think we’re both made for the purpose of learning to trust one another. And I think we’re both designed to prove that we can be loyal to one another and not betray one another.

    Thus, I believe that any human who decides to buy or adopt a horse, but then refuses to accept responsibility for that horse for life, either by guaranteeing that the horse goes to another good home or by providing for that horses’s needs until the end of the horse’s natural days, is not demonstrating loyalty, and does not deserve to be the “owner” of a horse.

    Maybe there will never be such a thing as consensus opinion on this sensitive subject. But I do believe that if we each realize that every horse is dependent upon humans for their welfare and that every horse deserves to receive our most devoted and selfless care, then we can all make life not only tolerable, but outright joyous for our equine friends.

    If, Michaleen, your horses aren’t experiencing joy and peace and love and safety every single day, and if you realize that they aren’t and decide that they really should, then maybe just maybe you’ll retire them all and get into another line of work. Please stay open to that possibility, okay? (Remember, it just could be that you do have blinders on, like your horses do, and that you’re seeing only what you want to see!) Meanwhile, the activists might also decide to be open to the possibility that they are exaggerating some perceived problems, or seeing only what THEY want to see! Maybe you’ll both find opportunities to reach out and “see” what they other is saying, and find ways to be civil to one another, if not kind and understanding!

    I hoped I’ve helped bridge the gap between the “sides.” Ultimately, though, this discussion should have only one side: what’s TRULY best for God’s beautiful horses!

  7. Olivia, thank you for your post. That was very well said. Michaleen, thank you for your post as well- it is important for both sides of this debate to be well represented. As such, I find that it is important to support claims with evidence from “unbiased” sources- such as newspaper articles. That is why I included such sources in my original post, and why I will also do so here. I hope that in our discourse regarding factual allegations concerning horse-drawn carriages in New York City, we can try to cite to sources to back this up- otherwise factual claims bear nearly no meaning and enter the realm of opinion. While opinion is appreciated here and should be included in such arguments, it is important to provide evidence when alluding to facts. Though this topic can and will be seen differently by people with opposing opinions of the proper relation between humans and other animal species, as Olivia pointed out, putting emotions aside can be important in forming adequate arguments. As we all should be fully aware of, hysterical, name calling, and highly emotionally driven arguments are not convincing to anybody.

    Michaleen, I would first like to address your assertion that there are so many horrible things that happen to horses that people fighting to get horse drawn carriages out of the city streets should be more concerned with. This form of argument is weak for multiple reasons. First, you do not know what other causes people may be fighting for. How do you know they don’t have rescued horses that they care for? You simply do not know this. Secondly, you cannot say someone should not fight for a cause that they deem worthy just because there are worse things going on in the world- e.g. how could you say someone is wrong to fight for greater protection of battered women when they could be fighting for greater protection of rape victims? Both are horrible things that occur in our society that must be addressed. Just because one person, for whatever reason, chooses to address a certain societal evil does not mean that they deem the others to be less important or appalling. Thirdly, because horse-drawn carriages are so visible to the public, with hundreds of thousands of people passing by them every day, witnessing the conditions they are working in for themselves, it is something that many feel a closer connection to and desire to end than other harmful ways horses are treated. Just because this happens to be what people witness first hand and thus feel a greater urgency to end, does not mean they do not care about other problems horses face or are less poised to argue for horses rights in this respect.

    Next, I would like to point out that the horses in the city are not being treated in accordance with horse care treatment guidelines. Horses normally sleep at night and many of the horses work very late hours and thus are not allowed a healthy sleeping cycle. See http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/ask-the-expert/ask-the-expert-horse-behavior/lighting.html). Horses do not adapt well to cold weather and should have constant access to shelter, should they want to go inside. See http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/ask-the-expert/ask-the-expert-horse-behavior/cold-weather.html. Horses should have this constant access to shelter available so that they are protected from rain, wind, and snow, see http://www.hsus.org/horses_equines/companions/general_horse_care_guidelines.html, elements that they should be exposed to in the most limited amounts possible and are clearly exposed to often in New York City. Horses should be fed often- twice a day at the very least- and given at least an hour between work and feeding. See http://www.animalinfoproducts.com/Downloads/FREE/carechart_s.pdf. There is no way, when horses are working all day long, that both of these requirements could logistically be met. The proper amount of work a horse should get is one hour six days a week. See http://www.animalinfoproducts.com/Downloads/FREE/carechart_s.pdf. New York City carthorses are permitted to work nine hour days, seven days a week. See http://www.aspcapro.org/saving-lives/documents/equnine-fund.pdf. These horses are not only injured in traffic accidents as shown in my original post, but they have also been injured, even killed by heatstroke. See http://www.aspcapro.org/saving-lives/documents/equnine-fund.pdf.

    A 2007 audit of the New York City horse-drawn carriage industry found improper licensing and record keeping, improper veterinary care, horses lacking adequate amounts of water, a great risk of overheating on hot asphalt, and infrequent inspections. See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/nyregion/06horses.html?_r=2&ref=nyregion. A more recent audit, issued in September 2009, found similar problems. See http://www.zootoo.com/petnews/accidentheatsuphorsedrawncarri-1434. The deputy comptroller who led the investigation, John Graham, pointed out that “Central Park South is a spectacular thoroughfare, but it was never set up for horses.” See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/nyregion/06horses.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion.

    You mentioned that the horses get better health care than many children in New York. This is undoubtedly true, but the fact that the city is ridden with many health care problems does not mean that care of horses should be ignored. Furthermore, as evidenced above, the veterinary care of these horses is lax to begin with. Along a similar line of argument that you commonly use, you’ve pointed out that many more horses are injured or killed in “eventing, jumping, racing, polo, etc.” This is also an issue that many people concerned with animal rights seek to end. Just because there is something that could be seen as worse, does not mean that perceived abuse of horses in this instance should not be addressed. I would also like to point out the riders associated with those activities you mentioned as being more dangerous to horses, undoubtedly feel that they love their horses and treat them well. You also mentioned Chester, Tony, and Spotty, but what about Juliet, who collapsed and died in September 2006 and the countless other horses that have been injured? See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/nyregion/06horses.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion. There are many documented incidences of injury to horses, as shown in my first post, which should not be overlooked.

    The ASPCA was started by Henry Bergh in 1866 in response to seeing a driver viciously beating his carthorse in New York City and, to this day, the ASPCA tries to introduce legislation and urge comment on legislation in an effort to better protect these horses. See https://secure2.convio.net/aspca/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&id=2476 and http://www.aspcapro.org/saving-lives/documents/equnine-fund.pdf. So, while the ASPCA inspects horse treatment practices, the current laws are inadequate to properly protect these horses. Furthermore, many of the city agencies responsible for policing this industry do not do so adequately. See http://www.zootoo.com/petnews/accidentheatsuphorsedrawncarri-1434. Even comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. said, “The agencies entrusted with oversight here have dropped the ball.” See http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/t/william_c_jr_thompson/index.html?inline=nyt-per and http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/06/nyregion/06horses.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion.

    I cannot speak as to what pictures some people show to demonstrate carthorse injuries, but I do know for a fact that there are many horrible pictures of injured horses that do take place in New York City. Furthermore, the articles from reputable newspapers cited above, my own observations of horses in New York City, and a basic understanding of the physiology and psychology of horses is enough to convince me that they are subject to cruel, improper conditions.

  8. Grains help to give horses energy. How much grain you give them depends on how hard you work the horse. The circle graphs show you how much bulk and grain to feed your horse, depending on how hard they work.

  9. As a carriage stable owner in NYC along with my Family,who owns the stable 45 plus yrs,I feel there is no need to just ify the care we give our horses,they show in their appearance how they are kept.These horses would not look this healty if they were mistreated.If anybody thinks they see abuse,report it,all carriages have a license plate.Its anybody’s right to not approve of horses working,as its my right and all the other carriage horse owners to be licensed and highly regulated to work.With all the inspections on the street and in the stable by 5 governing agencies,this alone is our best proof there is no abuse.To make false accusations on animal abuse when there is none,only is a sad attempt to dupe the public to ”donate” .How can 136 horses work between dayshifts and night shifts,and not 1 be cited for cruelty?Opinions are just that.

  10. I’d like to add these horses in NYC have 24 hr stable staff on duty 365 days a yr,3 vets on call,blacksmiths,dental techs, that visit regularly.Feed delivery of hay,senior feed & other feeds,& straw and or shavings are brought by tractor trailers to the 5 stables reugularly.Manure removal by private sanitation is constant as well.All this information is well documented by thte Dept of Health,& ASPCA.We are extremly proud of our stables and horses and enjoy showing them off everyday in a city of 8 million people!

  11. I loved your article it has great information. I think you and your readers might be interested in another article I found about horse’s and dry eyes.
    You can visit the website at http://whatistheeye.wordpress.com

  12. […] blawg has previously discussed the controversy surrounding horse-drawn carriages in New York City. Now there is the potential that those idealized tours arround Central Park might be coming to an […]

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