7 December

Carriage Horses: My Statement

by Jon Katz
My Statement
My Statement

The carriage trade and the Teamsters Union, organizers of Mondays’ noontime rally to save the jobs of the carriage drivers, to be held on the steps of New York’s City Hall asked me today if I would write a statement about my feelings about the proposed ban on the carriage trade so they could circulate it to the media at the rally.

I wrote it this afternoon and sent it along, I thought it only fair to share it with you also:



Beyond the politics of New York City, the long assault on the carriage trade and the ban being proposed by the mayor has mesmerized and horrified much of the animal world beyond. There is a lot at stake here for animals and the people who love them, in New York City and elsewhere.

Horses have lived and worked and helped build every one of the great cities of the world, from Rome to New York. Why, after thousands of years of this glorious partnership between animals and people, it is suddenly cruel and abusive for them to remain among us?

We need a wiser understanding of animals than this. We need to find a better way of treating the people who own and live and work with them.

The horses call to us to have a real dialogue about the future of animals in crowded cities, not this false and meaningless farce of a dialogue, the one going on in New York.

There are real questions to be considered and discussed here, none of them are being considered or discussed by the mayor or his allies in the movement that claims to speak for animals, but does not really.

Who speaks for animals in our world, what are their rights, who defines their welfare? Can they be kept safely in our world, or must they be driven a way to rescue farms and slaughterhouses, where they will never been seen again and will vanish from the earth, as so many other species have.

The city that built Central Park can find a way to keep the carriages horses here, that is by no means the greatest challenge New York faces.

It is clear by now – many veterinarians, behaviorists, trainers, equine advocates and rescue groups, writers, reporters and city residents, police and health department inspectors have testified to it – that the carriage horses are not being abused or mistreated.

The organizations in New York seeking the ban of the carriage trade have simply reinvented the idea of abuse and what it means to suit a political, not an animal agenda.

Their shrill and dishonest campaign has failed to convince anyone in New York that the carriage trade is cruel. Sixty-six percent of New Yorkers want the horses to stay, along with all three newspapers, the Working Families Party, the Chamber of Commerce.

The carriage horses are not abused. To the contrary, famed horse trainer Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for the movie “Horse Whisperer” have said that the carriage horses are the fortunate horses, they have work, are well supervised and cared for, are healthy and content.

The worst thing for horses, says Brannaman, is so sit around with nothing to do but drop manure. The carriage horses are lucky. Like people and border collies, they need something to do.

Sadly, that is not true for the many horses in America who are being abused and neglected, the carriage horses are not among them.

The truth is that these are not the horses that need rescuing, these are not the people who abuse animals. If any New Yorker comes to my upstate county, I will show them what it means for a horse to be abused – horses living without shelter, adequate medical care, good and fresh food. Horses with sores, cracked hooves, covered in filth, out in the snow.

I can show them horse rescue farms struggling to feed the sick and dying animals they have already, laboring to take on huge and healthy draft horses and feed them for years.

More than 155,000 horses were sent to slaughter in Mexico and Canada in the past year, it is simply not rational and surely not humane to send horses that are safe, healthy and well cared for out into the catastrophe that is engulfing horses and overwhelming horse rescue farms all over America. And filling slaughterhouses.

They could meet Simon, my donkey, who was taken by the troopers from a nearby farm, he was starved, covered in lice and sores, his hooves had grown out a foot on either side, they had not been trimmed in years, his teeth had grown into his jaw, he was ours from being dead.

Perhaps some of the millions spent in New York to ban the horses and win over the mayor could have gone to Simon or the many animals in New York and elsewhere who are really suffering.

No reputable equine expert believes it is cruel for working horses to pull light carriages on asphalt and flat ground through Central Park. Draft horses were bred to work, like border collies and police horses and bomb-sniffing dogs in the train stations, and therapy dogs and search-and-rescue dogs.

Here’s the thing. Horses are not dogs, they are not cats, they are not furbabies or children. All animals are not pets. The horses are real animals who come from the real world of animals. They are not depressed in the park, or lonely, they do not make career choices and pine for the mythical wild where they have never lived and would not last  long.

They need to work, it is central to their health and well-being.

How does one accept the mayor’s claim that it is immoral for horses to be in the city, but moral for police horses to be stabled and housed in the same places and in the same way? Or for dogs to live in the train tracks of Amtrak sniffing for bombs that could tear them to pieces?

No carriage horse in New York works as hard as my border collie Red, who does not get five weeks of vacation, does not have an air-conditioned bedroom, who works in heat and cold and is regularly butted and trampled by ewes and rams?

When will they come for him?

Horses have always lived and worked in cities, been housed in stables, been connected to people. Draft horses have never lived in the so-called freedom of the wild, they were never bred for it, would have no idea how to survive.

Carriage horses in the wild would struggle to find enough food (they eat four large bales of hay a day), be easy prey for predators, and suffer from exposure, cold and heat, the absence of medical care, violent conflicts with other horses, or any kind of regulation or human attention, which they crave and have always known.

That’s why they have never lived in “freedom.”

Although much has been made of the danger the horses pose to the congested city, this myth is no more real than the allegation that the horses are being cruelly treated.

In the 150 years of the carriage trade, no human being has ever been killed by a carriage horse. Just this fall, two people walking in Central Park were killed by bicyclists.

The mayor is not proposing to ban bicycles from the park, he is seeking to make the park safer for bicycles and pedestrians. Why is the same principle not applicable to the carriage horses, who have killed no one?  There are many theories that are ugly and disturbing, the banning process seems to have undermined the idea of a progressive city committed to fairness and freedom. It makes no sense to animal lovers anywhere.

I know of nowhere else in the world where giant electric cars are considered more eco-friendly than these gentle and biddable horses. A rational and progressive society would be working to keep their horses, not to banish them.

Famed biologist Jared Diamond has said said that draft horses are the most domesticable animals for cities on the earth, they are friendly to other species, trainable, strong, calm and adaptable.

Conditions for them have only improved in New York City, not worsened. A century ago, dozens of horses died in New York streets each week from fires, disease, collisions, mud ruts, rat bites, animal attacks. It is an utter and ignorant (of history) idea that horses can not life safely in the crowded streets of New York. Veterinary and health officials have found no evidence of any kind of respiratory disease caused by the city fumes that the horses are supposed to be sucking in every day.

No horse in New York City died from anything but natural causes in 2014. In the past decade, there have been only a handful of accidents occurring among millions of rides. No animal or human has a better safety record in New York than the carriage horses and the carriage trade.

One could easily argue that horses are better suited to cities than dogs, they do not bite hundreds of people every year and send scores of children to the hospital for treatment of bites.

Dogs remind us that animals can adapt to the city if there is a will, and if people will fight for their right to own and keep them, as the carriage trade is doing for their horses.

As animals vanish from the world, pressured by development, climate change and human greed and predation, the people in the carriage trade have found a way to keep animals like horses in the city, and care for them well.

The carriage horses are loved all over the world, they symbolize the magic of New York, the beauty of Central Park, the romance and magic that animals can bring to our lives.

Central Park was created in part for the carriage horses, they are as natural and organic to the park as beautiful trees and walkways.

Beyond those and other issues, the campaign against them has been marked by cruelty, abuse and harassment, it seems ironic that the mayor wishes to ban the horses, who have harmed no one, while he sanctions the worst kind of abuse to the people in the carriage trade, mostly innocent human beings who have committed no crimes, broken no laws, violated none of the many regulations that govern them.

Online, in the streets, at demonstrations, the people in the carriage trade have been accused of abuse, torture, neglect, greed and cruelty. Hardly any of these accusations have been proven or found to be accurate.

Abuse is not an argument on Facebook, it is a crime, and no person in the carriage trade is being accused of it or has been convicted of it.

People who love animals wish to keep them in our lives and in our world – the horses live in the heart of our greatest city already. The people in the carriage trade say they are open to any suggestions for making the lives of the horses even better and safer, but the mayor will not speak to them, and no member of the movement that calls itself an animal rights movement has visited their stables or will speak to them.

This is not progressive, it is not democratic, it is not fair or just to take the work and sustenance away from hundreds of people who have done no wrong and been given no due process of any kind.

I can speak for many lovers of animals and horses outside of New York City. We applaud the carriage trade for finding a way to keep horses healthy and busy and profitable in New York City. We stand with them.

We need to keep these horses in our world, their have the right to be here, they belong here as much as we do, they do more good than most of us do.

They feed scores of families, send children to college, put roofs over the heads of hard working and honest people. They bring joy to countless people. There is not a tourist or child on the earth who would not oppose the mayor’s ban, given a voice or a chance to speak.

Those of us who love animals would hope the mayor and the city government and the people who call themselves supporters of animal rights would work to make the lives of the horses even better and safer, rather than establish a Kangaroo Court with a pre-conceived agenda to drive them away.

From my perspective, outside of the city I love the most and have lived in several times happily, it seems as if the White Rabbit has taken over the ban proposal. The carriage drivers have done no wrong. Off with the carriage drivers heads.

John Locke, the British philosopher who conceived of the idea of liberty and moral government, said it is the purpose of government to protect the freedom and property of it’s citizens. Not to take it away without cause.

That might be the biggest issue of all in this painful and poignant struggle.

The cruelty and dishonesty of the long campaign against the carriage trade suggests that the horses need to be represented by people who understand them and their real lives and needs. People who know something about animals, and who will treat the horses and the people who own and live with them with dignity and respect.

Nobody like that seems to be a part of the process to banish the horses from New York.

I believe – and so do many others – that there is no greater right for animals than the right to remain and survive in our world. For the love of animals, and for their true rights, and for the rights of people, the ban against the carriage trade needs to fail.

Jon Katz

December 8, 2014

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