The Truth About Carriage Horses

By Thornton W. Blease


























The Truth About Carriage Horses

    No one will argue that man has a shared responsibility for the animals in the world, and that animal abuse should never be tolerated. The standard definition of animal abuse or animal cruelty is the intentional infliction by humans of suffering or harm upon any non-human animal, for purposes other than self-defense or survival.  

    Where does the Carriage Horse industry fit within this definition? According to New York City’s mayor, Bill de Blassio, Carriage Horses are “Inhumane” and added, “Horses working on the streets of New York City…it’s not right.” Is this true?

    Rationally approaching arguments regarding ethical animal issues is difficult because of the strong affection that we have for animals. And the solution, what we can accept as the right or wrong way to treat animals is further complicated by conflicts between our affection for, and our connection to both human and non-human animals. Normative or evaluative approaches function on the abstract facet of value, of principles and prescription, rather than focusing on the concrete facet of facts and results. Prescriptions and principles should not be disregarded, but they do not by themselves answer what to do in difficult ethical situations.  For example consider the moral dilemma: Should we allow horses to pull carriages? Following our values that include as not to use “another” as means to human ends, would result in a normative solution based on value; Carriage Horses would not be permitted. However, when one considers the facts, it becomes obvious that banning Carriage Horses is not acceptable.

    Looking at the Carriage Horse industry through a “Common Sense for Animals” lens, it becomes obvious that the Carriage Horse debate is wrapped in emotion, ignorance, political greed and rage, instead of science, truth and reality. 

    According to expert after expert, scientist after scientist, trainer after trainer, veterinarian after veterinarian, horse lover after horse lover, Carriage Horses are not abused. They are healthy, safe and content.  

    Yet, we have the tendency to anthropomorphize animals, treating them as equal to humans. We often falsely apply humanness to animals and project human experiences onto animals. We wouldn’t want to pull a carriage, therefore, neither would a horse. Anthropomorphism is a common obstacle in the deliberation of ethical decisions, and a framework should take this into account to assure that anthropomorphism is not the primary basis for ethical decisions. Since humans are connected affectionately to animals, our sympathy derived from anthropomorphic ideology should not be totally disregarded, but understood and placed in proper perspective.    

    After spending time with a beautiful Percheron Carriage Horse in St. Augustine, Florida, I wondered what really is the truth about Carriage Horses? The negative stories I heard, do not align with what I saw for myself. I saw a content horse with an obvious connection and affection for his partner. He nuzzled the driver’s pocket looking for a snack, as my horse does. The horse was bright, alert with a perfect body weight and conformation. 

    What do the experts argue? Not the real estate developers and animal rightists that have never stepped foot into the stables, nor critically examined the pros and cons of the industry, but what do the experts that have come to New York City to examine the Carriage Horses and their lives maintain about their conditions? 

    Harry Warner, DVM, former chairman of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, with nearly 50 years of experience in equine medicine notes, “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) …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 day long 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 hoof care, 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.”

    Sara Ralston, DVM, Rutgers University contends, “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 is my wish that all horses be treated as well.”  

    John E. Lowe, DVM, Cornell University, who examined 130 New York City Carriage Horses for soundness and general health, maintains, “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…” 

    Susan McLellan, DVM, former chairperson of the Rental Horse Licensing and Protection Board of New York City argues, “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 “ points out, “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.” 

    Horses are one of the most domesticated animals in the world for urban areas. They tolerate noise and disruption, are gentle and attach to people, hence suited to work in urban areas. 

    Both the American Veterinary Medical Association  (AMVA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) investigated the Carriage Horse industry in the past year and both organizations report that the horses are healthy, content and well cared for. While they noted that a couple were over-nourished, none were malnourished. Their attitudes and behaviors were those associated with contentment: they were interested in their environment, would put their heads out to be stroked and their ears forward.

    Are the Carriage Horses safe in New York City? Three Carriage Horses 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 electric 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, and four people were killed by bicycles.

    From a New York State Veterinary Medical Society (NYSVMS) letter to Mayor de Blasio: “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.”

    These are just a handful of the multitude of reports that the most knowledgeable and credible experts in the equine world that have not been taken into consideration by New York City’s mayor and anti-rights activists. Instead, these activists sprinkle their debate with dishonest and uninformed information and unsupported anthropomorphic prejudices, rather than a common sense investigation into reality and truths. They not only threaten the jobs of hundreds of people, but threaten the lives of hundreds of horses, many rescued from auction houses and kill sales.

  It makes common sense to keep horses in our lives every day, especially when they are fortunate enough to be needed, loved and as well cared for as Carriage Horses.