7 August

Going To New York: The Last Stand Of The Carriage Horses

by Jon Katz
The Last Stand Of The Horses
The Last Stand Of The Horses

A friend asked me why I am going to New York City today when there are many closer, cheaper, easier places to go. I think he was worried that New York isn’t the most restful place for me right now.  I told him there were lots of reasons – I love New York, the people, the food, the culture there. But I told him the truth was partly that I feel I need to go to New York to see the horses now, to take pictures of the drivers, of the carriages in the great park. The horses are in their greatest danger, they are calling out to the world to pay attention.

It is, truly, an epochal time in the life of animals in our world. The horses sensed it from the first. Chief Avrol Looking Horse of the Sioux Nation told me of a great dance held many years ago, in which the horses appeared to dance and to say goodbye, they knew they were about to be slaughtered and driven from the world by human beings who had no work for them. One day, said a big and beautiful gray stallion, when they were most needed, they would return.

I believe they are needed now, I believe their spirits have returned.

The last stand of the big horses in America. New York is the big stage, other groups in other cities are already mobilizing to ban carriage horses there, ignorance is infectious, it spreads like any virus.

America seems to have lost it’s mind and it’s memory when it comes to keeping animals in our world, or acknowledging the role these wonderful creatures have had in our history and our lives. Can it really be that the world’s first democracy seeks to take these wonderful beings away from us and destroy the livelihood and way of life and seize the private property of people who have done no wrong, committed no crimes, played by all of the rules of our society?

They are coming for the horses, and they are coming for the ponies and elephants and working dogs and chickens on farms and so many other animals who used to live and exist among us. Soon enough, they will be coming for you, for the animals in your world, for the way in which you live with them and love them. Soon enough, they will be entering your world, your life and telling you how to live and taking the animals you love a way from you and removing them from our lives. It is not a paranoid fantasy, it is here. It is the life of every carriage horse owner and driver and every horse today in New York. It is happening right now.

It is why the carriage horse issue is so important.

The most powerful and wealthy forces in the city – the mayor, his millionaire friends, the groups who claim to speak for animals rights – say they are determined to ban the horses from New York forever, they insist they do not belong there, and they say they will do it soon, perhaps in the next week or so. The people in the carriage trade are tired, worried – they do not have a lot of money, they are not media or political warriors,  they can’t pay their bills for weeks, even days, if they are banned.

There are rumors that they have hired a lawyer, are preparing to fight back, but they have said nothing in public, they are keeping their own counsel. They are clannish in that way, uncertain and unfamiliar with the primal laws of media conflict.  I believe strongly that if they fight, they will win. There is no logic, justice or rationale to the movement to ban the horses, I do not believe it will stand. But I am not in New York, I am not a carriage horse driver, I have not been battered and threatened and harassed for years, forced to live in confusion and uncertainty.

There are many things to be concerned about in New York or the world today – the headlines call out to us for attention and remedy. It is easy enough to shrug one’s shoulders. Who really cares about the big horses, relegated to a corner of life in New York, used mostly to keep children and tourists happy?

I care.  I hope you care. There are animal issues and human issues in this story and both are of great importance.

First, if the horses are taken from the city, the cause of animals in our world will be grievously damaged. The greatest right of animals today is not to be confined to rescue ghettos where they will never be seen and have nothing to do but eat hay and drop manure. It is to survive in our world. This is the last stand of the carriage horses, there is literally nowhere else for them to go.  Banishment means extinction, if the big horses go, they will soon enough leave the world, as so many other animals have.

We have lost our perspective and priorities. We make room for dogs and cats and people and pedicabs and condos and skyscrapers and cars and trucks and triple decker buses in New York City, we can make room for the horses who have lived in the city for centuries and helped build it. They have done no harm and much good, they bring magic, history and the natural world to the park every single day.

The horses speak to me, they have been speaking to me for months, and they tell me that if they leave the city, our covenant with the earth with be broken, the wind and the rain and the fire shall leave with them. They belong with us, we need them more than we can imagine, especially now when our earth is broken and bleeding. We owe it to the children to keep them, there is not a child or true animal lover on the earth who wishes them to go, who would not miss seeing them, they are the magic and the mystery of the earth, right in the center of our greatest city.

Then there is the human issue, of equal importance. The people in the carriage trade are part of an ancient tradition, people working with horses and animals in partnership. They work hard, pay their taxes, raise their families. They have the right to their way of life, they are not abusers of animals, the working horses are content and healthy, working in the way they have for centuries, working in health with good care and much supervision and oversight.

The horses are not abused, they are not living in misery, they are not sad and piteous.  They do not need to be patronized and saved. They are strong and proud animals, doing what they have been bred to do, sharing the joys and travails of life with the people who work with them and care for them, one of the oldest and most storied traditions in the animal world.

So I go to New York for many reasons. One of them is to see the horses, encourage them, record some images of them, look on rich very human faces of the drivers, show my own small and humble flag. To let them know in the smallest of ways there are lots of people who care about them, who are thinking about them, who value justice and truth.

Every day, I get messages from the horses, they call me there, every day. My open heart surgery has not made me timid or reluctant to travel, quite the opposite, it helps me to feel strong and clear and to understand what it is truly important, and if I don’t go to New York now, then why ever go?

If the horses are banned, New York and the world will be a darker and less mystical place. We will have cut out a piece of ourselves, our history, our connection to the natural world, and also, our own sense of humanity.  We will have betrayed Mother Earth yet again, and broken faith with our fellow citizens, who deserve peace and liberty in their lives. Animals will never benefit from the abuse and mistreatment of people.  The horses understand this as well as any creature, they have served human beings since the beginning of time.

On behalf of people. On behalf of animals.

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