19 June

The Carriage Horses: We Have A Shared Responsibility For the Animals, For The People…

by Jon Katz
A Moral Issue
A Moral Issue

This post was inspired in part by Pope Francis and his encyclical on climate change and moral responsibility. It helped me to understand the link between the horses, the people, and the earth. We must  regain the conviction, Francis wrote, that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the animals of the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.

The future of the carriage horses in New York City is,  it turns out, a moral issue, not a humane or animal issue. The horses must not be send off in peril so that we can bring more motorized vehicles to the last stand of Mother Earth in New York City.

The carriage horse story is only partly about animals, it as much about about science  and truth versus emotion, ignorance, greed and rage. If the words I have reprinted below do not make you pause, or make you believe, then there is perhaps no reaching or reasoning with you. I hope you have the time and opportunity to read them:

In their own words below, expert after expert, scientist after scientist, trainer after trainer, veterinarian after veterinarian, horse lover after horse lover has said precisely the same thing: the carriage horses are not abused, they ought not be replaced by electric-powered automobiles, they are healthy, content and safe in their homes, the honest and hard work of hundreds of innocent, law-abiding people ought not to be destroyed by an arrogant political leader who knows nothing about animals and seems to care nothing about many of the people he is sworn to serve.

These words have been ignored by the mayor, and dismissed as false by the people who claim to support the rights of animals. These accomplished and experienced people are all part of the conspiracy to imprison and abuse the carriage horses, none of them – not one – offers a single word or thought or observation worth considering. This is one of the most sophisticated cities on the earth. That is not  how I wish to be in the world, you can make your own choice.

Mayor deBlasio was not elected only to serve the needs of people who gave him money to his campaign, or who whisper in his ear at fund-raising dinners, he is morally obliged to represent the people of the carriage trade as well, to talk to the owners of the horses and their drivers, to meet with them and their representatives, to listen to them, negotiate with them and visit the places where they work before he destroys their lives without cause or rationality.

I have assembled some quotes from just a handful of the people who have, unlike the mayor and a single member of any animal rights group in New York City, come to New York to see the horses and examine them and their lives. The mayor has never talked to any of these highly regarded and experienced people, never considered a word they have said, never called them up or invited them to visit. Every week, animal rights activists and real estate developers seeking to ban the carriage trade hold their press conferences, march in the streets, shout at the carriage drives, taunt the horses, parade into City Hall to meet with the mayor and his aides to plan their campaign to banish the horses.

These meetings in City Hall are all – every one – held in secret, the people most affected – the carriage drivers and horse owners – are excluded, have never once been invited to lunch, to come to City Hall, they are treated as less than human members of the moral community.

This is immoral, an awful precedent set in our greatest city against the animals in the world, whom we are obliged to care for and keep alive for Mother Earth, and not sent away in peril so that more automobiles can clog New York City streets, and more condo towers can be built in the city. Isn’t there any point, asks Pope Francis, where we can stop and consider the animals and resources of the world, and work to keep them rather than destroy them and drive them away? Is there any point where there are enough cars and buses and trucks?

Then there is the whole idea of education and learning and reality. It is a troubling thing when political leaders reject science and expertise for cruelty and the crassest and cruelest kind of mob ignorance.

Listen to these words and decide for yourself:

Dr. Sara Ralston, DVM, Rutgers University: “The horses in the stalls were demonstrating no obvious signs of distress or discomfort; in fact (the horses) were acting perfectly content, munching hay or begging for treats. The horses on the streets were calm, well-adjusted, well-groomed, and alert and friendly.” It was her wish, she said, that all horses be treated as well. 


The Central Park Conservancy, credited with restoring the park after decades of neglect, opposes the mayor’s plan to replace the carriage horses with electric cars, saying the plan is “unsafe” and will increase congestion in the park, already struggling to accommodate 40 million visitors a year. The horses, says the conservancy, are a natural part of the park’s history.


Dr. Harry Warner, DVD , former chairman of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, with nearly 50 years of experience in equine medicine: “I didn’t see a single horse that didn’t show all the signs that we associate with contentment. No, it’s not too much stress (to be a carriage horse). There are horses who don’t want to be a race horse. There are horses that don’t want to chase cattle…Given free access to all areas of the stables and to the horses’ veterinary records, we reviewed the husbandry, veterinary care and farrier care the horses received.

Our daylong inspection ended with a carriage ride through Central Park, which enabled us to inspect the horses at work. The American Association of Equine Practitioners paid all expenses associated with our visit, and we were not compensated by the carriage industry. On a visit paid for by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, I was impressed by the conditions of the stables and animals.

I was impressed by the cleanliness of the horses’ housing and the ample bedding in their stalls. While stall size varied, even the smaller stalls provided adequate room for the horses to stand, lie down and move about comfortably. Fire prevention was clearly a priority at the stables. Sprinkler systems, extinguishers and other fire emergency response equipment were present and clearly marked. All access and exit corridors were clear, clean, padded and of ample dimensions to facilitate safe passage by horses and handlers. Hay and grain quality was excellent and foodstuffs were stored in a manner that was secure from pests. Water was fresh and available freely to the horses.

The quality of the farrier care provided for the horses was excellent. In the few cases where hoof condition had required therapeutic farriery, the care had been competently performed. All horses had up to date and complete veterinary care records which detailed wellness care and treatments for sickness or injury. The physical condition of all of the horses I observed was very good. I saw no evidence of inadequate nutrition or signs of injury or disease.

In my view as an experienced equine veterinarian of 40 years — and after visiting the horses at work and at rest — all evidence points to a carriage horse industry that provides very good care for its horses.”


Dr. Susan McLellan, DVS, former chairperson of the Rental Horse Licensing and Protection Board of New York City:
“We found the conditions under which the carriage horses live and work to be quite good. Extensive regulations exist concerning the hours they can work, the temperatures and other weather condition restrictions when they must not work, and many other regulations concerning their housing, veterinary examinations, vacation schedules, licensing and other factors concerning their well being. Because of the pressures they have been under for years from humane groups, the carriage industry has strived to maintain these high standards.”


Buck  Brannaman, one of the world’s most respected horses trainers, author of “The Faraway Horses” and the inspiration for the movie “The Horse Whisperer:”

“Pulling carriages on rubber-rimmed wheels on paved streets is a low-stress job, and the horses are calm and relaxed, not anxiously laying their ears back or wringing their tails. Plus, these horses get lots of attention and affection from passersby. And horses love attention and affection as much as we do.

The horses that people should be concerned about are the neglected ones that, after the “newness” of ownership wears off, live in box stalls all day. These horses have no purpose, no jobs to do. All they do is eat and make manure. Even prisoners get to exercise more than these horses, and the horses have never done anything wrong. If they had the choice, these horses would choose to be carriage horses rather than stand in their stalls eating hay and dropping manure all day.”



Earlier this year, 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 to evaluate the health of horses.

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.”



Veterinarian Dr. Jan Pol, host of National Georgraphic’s “Wild Channel:” “I’m very impressed. I wish private owners would take care of horses as good as they do here.”


Dr. Stephen O’Grady, Northern Virginia Equine Veterinary Practice, in response to allegations the horses were confined in small “cells” where they could not stand or turn around: “I went to every stall. They can get up. They can lie down. They can turn around.  In other words, it’s not inappropriate for these style horses. The farriery on the horses was very, very good. One of the biggest things that keep these horses sound is what you do with their footcare. We made some recommendations that were carried out straight away, and in a very good manner. If this is overwork for a horse, I don’t know what the jumpers do that I see every day. I mean, if I had my choice and I were a horse, I wouldn’t mind being in this situation. You go out and smell the roses and kids are putting flowers on you every day.”



Aaron Hoover, a Lancaster County, Pa., farrier, shoes about 40 per cent of all of the carriage horses in the city: “I think the horses get treated better than I do. There’s a law that every horse gets 5 weeks of vacation. They’re not allowed to work when the temperature is above 89 degrees or below 19 degrees. I’m lucky if I get one week of vacation a year.”



The people and businesses of New York City oppose the carriage ban. Quinnipiac University polled registered New York City voters from March 12-17 and found that 64 per cent were opposed to a ban of horse-drawn carriages. In a poll of its members, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce reported March 10 that 76 per cent were against the proposed ban. In a democracy, this is supposed to matter. The mayor has said this does not matter to him. Work for horses in New York City, he says,  is immoral. The mayor has never ridden a horse, visited the city’s stables or owned a dog or cat.



Dr. John E. Lowe, DVM, Cornell University, who examined 130 New York City Carriage Horses for soundness and general health: “Attitude was bright, alert, quiet and responsive in all cases. Hair coats were good to shiny in all cases. I spent 10 hours with these horses and didn’t hear one cough at the jog (slow trot) or in the stables. This is an unusual observation for stables horses. The development of respiratory allergies is almost a given in a percentage of stabled horses. These horses are in good physical shape. I was impressed with their tractability and calmness whether doing a strange thing for them, like being jogged or waiting in traffic for the light or intersection to change.”


Famed biologist Jared Diamond: Draft horses are “the most domesticable animals in the world for life in urban areas.” They tolerate noise and disruption, other species they are gentle, they stay close to one another, they attach to people, they are genetically extraordinarily well suited to work with people in urban environments.


Are the carriage horses safe in New York City?  Three have been killed over 30 years in traffic accidents out of many millions of rides.  Nearly 300 people were killed in  traffic accidents in New York City last year, no person has been killed by a carriage horse in 150 years, yet the mayor and the animal rights groups insist the horses are a danger to the people of New York. He proposes removing the horses and adding more big cars to Central Park. Unlike dogs, horses do not attack one another or bite people. In Central Park last year, two children were killed by falling trees, four people were killed by bicycles.



From a New York State Veterinary Medical Society (NYSVMS) letter to Mayor deBlasio: “Much of the public debate over the horse drawn carriages fails to take into account  what is likely to happen to the city’s carriage horses if their work is taken away from them. The naive assumption that somewhere there is a pasture to which they can retire masks the reality that sooner or later, many of them will be put down. The equine practitioners of the NYSVMS, both within the city and elsewhere, have familiarized themselves with the conditions under which these animals work and find that they are healthy, happy and well-sheltered. They are the recipients of the best level of health care possible.”


Dr. Joseph Bertone, DVM, Western University School Of Medicine, an exceptionally rested equine veterinarian,  on his study of the stress levels of the New York Carriage Horses earlier this year: “We found no evidence of stress in these horses. Although not part of our study, we also observed for behavior associated with equine gastric ulcer syndrome. Ulcers result from stress. None of the behaviors were seen. We found the horses rested comfortably at night, as well. That is another important feature of horses in a safe, comfortable environment.”

The Western University study found that the horses were calm in their stables, in Central Park and after going to and from the park. He said the stress levels of the horses were significantly higher than they were on their mandated vacations in Pennsylvania than they were in the city. He said the stress levels were actually lowest when the horses were in Central Park, where they seemed especially content. You can see a video of Dr. Bertone’s report here.


These are just a handful of the reports and recommendations of the most knowledgeable and credible people and institutions in the equine world, ignored in the abuse and the unaccountably ignorant campaign against the carriage trade. The carriage horses have been supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Horse Council, The New York State Horse Council, Blue Star Equiculture, the New York State Veterinary Society,  the Equine Rescue Network, and scores of veterinarians and animal welfare organizations.


None of these people or organizations have been questioned by the mayor, or been invited to participate in the discussion on the future of the carriage horses. The debate there is harsh, dishonest and unknowing, shaped by unfounded accusations and unsupported prejudices. The leaders of our greatest city – and many journalists there –  have lost any understanding of the real world of real animals, the debate over the carriage horses could not possible be lower, more corrupt or unknowing.

Virtually none of the people seeking to ban the horses – garage builder Steven Nislick, head of NYClass, the animal rights group spearheading the ban effort; mayor deBlasio, who has never owned a dog; the president of the New York City Council, who has two rescue cats; or the leaders of any of the animal rights organizations involved has any training or qualifications in equine medicine, training or behavior. Yet they have dominated the discussion in the city, and shaped the media coverage of the issue, so important to the future of animals in our world.

They threaten the jobs of hundreds of people who have broken no laws and committed no crimes, they threaten the lives of hundreds of horses, many rescued from auction houses and kill sales.

The horse carriage debate, in fact, evokes the moral issues surrounding climate change, so powerfully evoked this week by Pope Francis. Do we believe the scientists, the doctors, the researchers, the scholars, or do we believe the greedy and angry know-nothings who turn their eyes to the fate and future of the earth so that they can continue to ravage the earth and make money unmolested by conscience or suffering? The horses deserve to keep their lives and work and not be displaced by greed and new technologies.

Our callousness and indifference to the life of the planet has caused enormous suffering to the poor and to the animals. Stopping the ban would send a signal to the world that we are ready to stop destroying life.

They are a timely symbol for the human issues we face about our world and it’s future.

It is wrong to send the carriage horses into peril so that more cars can enter Central Park. It is wrong to demolish their stables, their homes, so that more condominiums and office towers can be built in the over-built city. It is wrong to turn our backs on the history and welfare of animals when these horses live safe and valued lives and can be seen and loved by so many people in our biggest city.

We owe it to the earth to keep animals in our every day lives, especially when they are fortunate enough to be needed, loved, and so well cared for. We have a shared responsibility for the people and the animals in the world. If you are so moved, please write the mayor and tell him so: Mayor Bill deBlasio, New York City Hall, City Hall Park, N.Y., N.Y., 10007.



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