2 March 2015

Some Easy Steps For You: How To Tell If A Carriage Horse Is Happy

Is This Horse Happy?

Is This Horse Happy?

The mayor of New York City and his friends and colleagues in the animal rights movement say the New York Carriage Horses suffer from "unthinkable suffering" and that pulling carriages in Central Park is abuse. The horses, they say, are depressed and unhappy and yearn to return to the wild or to rescue farms where they will never be forced to work again. The carriage trade, says the mayor, is immoral and he seeks to ban the horses from New York and deprive the people in it of their work and way of life.

Over the past few months, I have written extensively about this controversy, and have talked with equine veterinary associations, equine vets, horse owners and lovers, trainers and behaviorists researching the story of the New York Carriage Horses. Along the way,  I have been compiling a list of the most commonly agreed-upon ways to determine if a horse is content and healthy. I took this list to New York City this weekend and applied it to the carriage horses I saw waiting in the carriage line on the South side of Central Park.

I will, of course, share it with you – you are free to use it in any way –  and I would encourage you to bring the list to New York City for yourself if you happen to be there and draw your own conclusions. The horses I saw seemed relaxed, content and healthy. I didn't see a single one of these problems.  I don't use the term "happy" when writing about animals, I think it is a human word describing human emotions. I use the word "content," which is what animals are when they are well cared for. Abused animals are almost never content or at ease.

I found the horses and drivers to be alert, curious and co-operative.

– The horse's head. A content horse has an alert but relaxed expression. Look for for an open, bright,  and friendly eye. A horse that is ill will show a pinched nostril, signs of respiratory distressed will be apparent by looking at the nostril or listening for signs of disturbed or congested breathing. The lips of a sick horse will be drawn, the horse's face will appear tense, the eyes wide and showing white.

– A horse with his ears "pricked" forward is alert and aware of what is happening around him. If a horse's ears are pinned back, nearly touching the neck, this may indicate anger or annoyance.

–  An overworked or lame horse will have swollen legs, injured horses may be bleeding. An overworked or lame horse will not wish to put any weight on it's feet (a calm horse will lift, or "cock" a rear leg, that is not a sign of injury). Horses with sound legs will stand upright and put pressure on all four legs when moving.

– Look for signs of lethargy. Horses that are discontented or suffering  will often appear slow and sluggish, reluctant to move. They may hold their heads down or their ears back. They are reluctant to interact with other horses or people. They might bite or nip. They will often fail to notice people who approach them or who try and pet them or feed them or talk to them.

–  Horses that are sick or unhappy may try and lie down, or move aimlessly, they may paw the ground. They will not eat oats or take carrots or other treats. They show no interest in what is around them.

– When a horse is angry or unhappy, he may also have his eyes wide open, nostrils flaring, he may be swishing his tail. A horse with a flared nostril has mostly likely been frightened or alarmed by something. Flared nostrils are usually seen along with wide-open eyes.  (Or if a fly is bugging or biting the horse.)

– Look at the tail. A lifted tail when in motion indicates a horse in high spirits (or is about to take a dump.) Be prepared.

There is no need to follow the Pong-like arguments of the animal rights people and the people in the carriage trade The horse people are transparent, you can go see the horses for yourself in the stable or at Central Park any time you like. I know most of the people reading this are not near New York City, which is why I am writing this, but a lot of people are. Many of them will help determine the fate of these beautiful and very safe animals. Thousands have gone to see the horses for themselves.

I know of no one who has gotten close to these horses who has found them to be depressed or depressing, suffering or unhealthy. Animals deserve at the very least to be known and understood by the people presuming to decide their fate. All of the information I have gathered is available on my blog archives or elsewhere online or in cited research. You can, of course, gather it for yourself.




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Working Animals: The Right To Bring Us Joy. A Bill Of Rights.

Working With Animals: Rights

Working With Animals: Rights

I believe we are living in the midst of a new social awakening, we are committing ourselves to a life with animals, to working with them and keeping them in our world and our lives. We believe in a new paradigm, where animals are known and understood, and a world in which animals and the people who own, love and work with them are treated with dignity and respect.

Working animals are entitled to these rights, A Working Animal's Bill Of Rights.

– They have the right to do the work they have been bred and trained and acclimated to do.

– They have the right to remain with us in our world.

– They have the right to bring us joy and laughter.

-They have the right to re-connect us to the animal world.

– They have the right to meet our children and plant the seeds of their future survival.

– They have the right to help heal us from our broken and disconnected culture, awash in greed, hostility, poisonous and wasteful machines, violence and suspicion.

-They have to right to live with us and show us how to live in harmony with Mother Earth, rather than despoil and destroy her.

– They have the right to draw the love and connection from us, to show us how to love one another and treat each other with respect.

– They have the right to survive, they are as entitled as we are to live in the full life and community of the world, not to be shunned aside and hidden from our civilization.

– They have the right to love us, work with us, and help us find sustenance and community.

– We have the right to live and work with them.

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Ready To Eat

Ready To Eat

Ready To Eat

Much excitement around feeding time. The donkeys come to the gate for their carrots, Red and Liam have their daily standoff, the other sheep head for the feeder, either Maria or I comes in with an armful of hay. Twice a day, everybody knows what to do.

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Living In Nature: What It Means, Who I am

Living In Nature

Living In Nature

New York City is like a mega-vitamin for me, when I need nourishment, stimulation or replenishment, that is where I go. Then I come home. I've lived in New York several different times in my life, it is an astonishing and remarkable place. My New York – place where kids could go and make their way in the world, has largely vanished, been replaced by condos and luxury apartments and chain stores,  or migrated to Brooklyn, which is exciting and achingly hip, expensive, politically-correct, and self-referential.

New York is a rich mix, but increasingly the dominant part of the mix is money. The city remains a place of controlled chaos, something I have always loved about it.

Saturday night Maria and I went to the Lower East Side to have dinner with my daughter Emma and her fiance, Jay Jaffe, who also writes about sports. Emma and Jay are very happy together, and I am excited about their wedding. I haven't seen him much. Jay and I live in very different words, I suspect he finds me a bit strange, even unfathomable. I am happy for them both.  At dinner we talked a bit about why I was so drawn to moving upstate to the country, and why I feel so at home in rural life.

Jay asked if this winter had persuaded me to think about living elsewhere, I said no, I have no wish to live elsewhere, not even in the winter, which I love, for all of it's headaches. Winter here reminds me of what it means to be alive, it demands that I be attentive, resourceful and grateful for Spring. Jay suggested that perhaps I lived upstate because I could have animals here, and could not elsewhere – like New York.

I told him I didn't think that was it, I love my work with animals but I came upstate well before I had many. It was as if a spell had been cast upon me, I just felt I belonged here. I realized this weekend, being in New York, that I have never quite acknowledged the degree to which I am drawn to be in nature, to live in the natural world and  yes, also the world of animals. Maria knows this about herself and has acknowledged it, she would live outside in a tent if it were feasible and could drag me into it. I am less in touch with this understanding of myself. Yet here I am, up early to see the mist over the hills.

A half-century ago, a psychologist named Boris Levinson wrote a landmark book called "People And Pets" in which he predicted that many Americans – living in cities and disconnected from the natural world and the world of animals and made anxious by changes in work, economics, the family, politics, religion and technology – would become broken from an essential part of humanity.

He said after the turn of the century, many Americans would turn to the natural world and to animals for healing. I am one of those people. He is gone, but he imagined me.  Levinson did not foresee that Mother Earth would become broken as well, perhaps because of her growing disconnection from human beings.

I need to be in nature. I need to smell the smells of nature, see the tracks of animals, look at the mist on the hills, walk in the forests, learn what it means to garden, feel the bitter cold and stand in awe of the furious storms – they really matter up here. And yes, live with animals as well, they are such an elemental part of nature.

While the horses in New York fight to stay in their park, in my county we are free to live with them, work with them, learn about them. I am figuring out who I am, learning to acknowledge my love of nature and my need of the natural world. This is one of the many things Maria and I share. I am committed to reconnecting to Mother Earth, and, insofar as is possible, to joining the struggle to help her heal as well as me. This is what I learn when I go to New York City.

The two different worlds of me, I think – New York City and Bedlam Farm, the two halves of the whole. I meet my editors there, edited a magazine there, produced a TV news show there, met my agents there, put on a play there, brought my first manuscript into my editor there, wandered Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side there, covered riots and demonstrations there, made love there in many places.

I hope I am never disconnected from New York, it is a part of me and my consciousness.

My life is here now, and this is my home. I no longer yearn for any other place, I am where I belong, where I need to be.

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The Tour Guides: MoMa

The Tour Guides

The Tour Guides

At the Museum Of Modern Art In New York City, I have always been drawn to the tour guides, amidst the throngs and the noise, they seem to always find a quiet space, this one asked her group to sit down for a bit and talk about the art they were seeing. I like to drift along the side of these groups and listen to the guides.

I've always loved museums, but kept my distance from art never saw myself as an artist. Since I've been with Maria, I realize that being an artist is just like being an author – you are one if you wish to be one. So I am an author and an artist and Maria has taught me a lot about art and the way to appreciate it and comprehend it. I might take one of these tours one day, I'd like to learn more.

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