18 December

News: The Two Most Prestigious Animal Vet Groups In The U.S. Support The Working Horses

by Jon Katz
The AMVA Weighs In
The AMVA Weighs In

Last week, the two most prestigious animal veterinary organizations in America – the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) and the American Association Of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) – entered the debate over the New York Carriage Horses by jointly publishing the most substantial perspective yet on the issue from some of the most qualified of people in the world.

Both organizations report that the horses are healthy, content and well-cared for, and outined specific medical issues facing urban horses. “We didn’t see a single horse undernourished,” said the author of the report. “More than a couple were over-nourished, but all healthy-looking, the attitudes and behavior of the horses were those with what we’d associate with a contented horse. They were interested in their environments, would put their heads out to be stroked, and had their ears forward.”

For people who are confused or on the fence, the AMVA and AAEP report offers a clear and factual choice, it comes from far outside the din, and it is thorough and professional.

There is much rhetoric or noise in the New York Carriage issue, few facts and expertise. You can get some here. You can read excerpts from the AAEP’s Dr. Harry Werner and his initial report on the New York Carriage Horses here, along with additional testimony from other equine veterinarians. The joint report of the AMVA and the AAEP is new and significant, it is broader and more comprehensive, and marks the first time those two organizations have officially joined the debate over the horses in New York. It follows by one week the formal introduction into the New York City Council of Mayor deBlasio’s legislation to ban the carriage trade, which he has deemed “immoral.”

I am sorry to tell you that there is only one publication in America – the Habit For Horses Sanctuary in Marvel, Texas –  that has reported this major finding in this important controversy. And good for them. The findings of this report , which was first published on December 14 in the JAMVA Journal, have appeared nowhere in New York City that I can find, online or off.

Last summer, when a carriage horse fell over, and then got up unharmed two minutes later, it was major news in New York for days. The mayor held a press conference about it, and NYCLASS, the group spearheading the carriage ban, invented what turned out to be a completely false drama about a spooked horse, a bus, and a phantom tourist from Oklahoma who claimed evil carriage drivers held the horse down for many minutes to save the cost of repairing the carriage. Nothing about it turned out to be  true. There was no bus, no tourist, no panicked horse.

The AMVA and AAEP report is vastly more significant than the horse’s troubles, yet few New Yorkers will ever know about it or get to read it.

What happens in New York City is important. New York is our biggest stage, if the horses are driven from the city, animals everywhere will pay, they will suffer and vanish into those ephemeral rescue farms that we are told are eagerly awaiting the banned horses of New York, even if no one will say who they are or where they are. They will disappear from our world.


Both veterinary organizations chose to enter the debate in New York by revealing the results of their own examination into the health and welfare of the carriage horses and to offer guidance for their proper handling, treatment and care. The findings should help move the issue past the rhetoric and eternal accusations and politics that have marked the issue in New York. They pit science and facts squarely against ideology and accusation.

The campaign against the carriage horses is almost purely an ideological one, it is not based in any kind of medical expertise or science. This report underscores the fact that there is simply no concrete evidence of any kind to support the idea that the horses are being abused or are unhappy or cannot be healthy and thrive in New York City. The animal rights activists – to a one – have made a point out of refusing to touch the horses,  visit the stables or speak with the carriage drivers. Doctors from the AMVA and the AAEP did all of those things and more.

In 2010, a group of equine welfare experts from the AMVA were invited to tour all five New York horse carriage stables. The group was invited by the Carriage Operators of North America, all expenses were paid by the AAEP. The group was given full access to all parts of the stables, along with with full access to all veterinary records.

The equine veterinarians paid particular attention to the stables’ cleanliness, according to the JAMVA report, ” to quality and storage of feed (hay and grain), to safety and ease of the horses’ access into and exit from the stable, to the size of the stalls to make sure they had adequate turnaround room, to environmental factors such as climate control, and to body condition scores of the horses”.

 The report noted the farrier care was good, with trimmed, but not overdone hooves. Some horses had corrective shoeing. The horses’ preventive care included immunizations, parasite control, and dental work. The horses also were getting a five- to six-week “vacation” in Pennsylvania every year.

When observing the horses in the streets, the joint report found,  the veterinarians didn’t see any panicking horses, nor did they observe any rapid breathing resulting from poor air quality. There was no veterinary record of lung disease or damage. The veterinarians also did not observe any swollen joints or lameness from the horses working on hard surfaces.

The joint report eviscerates just about every argument the mayor and the animal rights groups pushing for the ban have made in insisting that the horses are unhappy and unhealthy and over-worked in a hostile or dangerous urban environment. The doctors found no evidence of any of those claims, nor have any of the legions of residents, veterinarians, equine advocates, horse and animal lovers who have toured the stables all year.

 It is a powerful report,  affirming and persuasive. The country’s two most prestigious animal and equine veterinary associations have now joined with the Central Park Conservancy, all three newspapers, the Chamber of Commerce, the Teamsters Union, the Working Families Party and 67 per cent of the city’s residents in arguing that the horses are healthy and safe and ought to remain in the city. Pollsters say the last thing that has united the notoriously fractious  city so uniformly was  911.

Given all of the attention paid to the carriage horse controversy, the report ought to be major news in New York City, the kind of attention given to a carriage horse when he stumbles or falls down or runs into a car. It not only speaks to the welfare of the horses, but the troubling process by which the mayor came to  pursue his ban.  The fact that It has received no publicity of any kind in New York – every often unfounded accusation made against the carriage trade is all over the news – may help us understand how this invented and manipulated crisis has managed to get so far with nothing but hot air and unfiltered dogma – and lots of money – behind it.

Last year, the AAEP  issued a report on the unique and special needs of the urban horse, they cited traffic safety, hoof care, pollution, climactic extremes, ground surface hardness and load factors, and found that in New York, all of this issues had been taken into consideration, either in the city’s hundreds of regulations or the voluntary steps taken by the carriage trade. You can see the equine veterinarians special concerns about urban horses here.

 The AAEP found no evidence that the New York Carriage Horses are suffering from any of those problems.

 So there it is, what ought to be the final world, but will not be. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. In a sane world, this report ought to bury the mayor’s ban, there are simply no more credible and qualified authorities to speak about the carriage horses that experts from these two prestigious and respected animal medical associations. This ought to be the last time I write about the carriage horses. A mayor who is dealing from a straight deck of cards would call a press conference, apologize to the carriage trade owners and drivers, and move on to the many larger and more substantial issues the great city faces – poverty, homelessness, racial tensions, income inequality.

 We know now that this will not happen. The horse banners have already moved beyond reason or rationality, there is no reason to believe this report will stir them or change their minds. This sorry and misguided fight will go to the bitter end, whatever that might be, and I believe people who love animals care about their rights and their welfare as well as the rights of people  will be there at the end as well.

Is it a waste of time? Too soon to tell. If the horses are saved and animals like the carriage horses remain living and working among us, it will have been time well spent.


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