Strolling through Central Park, you are sure to see many animals you wouldn’t typically spot amongst the concrete high-rises of New York City. There might be a goose, or ducklings, or a horse. Yes, you are sure to spot a horse in Central Park, if not a two or three more. Of course, unlike the geese and ducklings, these horses aren’t found naturally roaming through the green, but attached to a cart, parked obediently around the edges of the park. For those who have never witnessed these majestic horses, let me introduce them … these are New York City’s Carriage Horses!
The chance to ride in a horse-drawn carriage is a fantastical dream that almost every Disney-loving child grew up with. After all, nothing says romance like a carriage ride, especially when the ride takes you through the iconic twinkling lights of New York. Or at least, from the perspective of the bundled up passengers of the carriage. From the perspective of the horse … things aren’t quite so dreamy.
Although Mayor Bill DeBlasio has promised to phase out horse-drawn carriages from New York, replacing live horses with electric cars, little progress has been made since he moved into Gracie Mansion. DeBlasio’s inaction has animal rights activists and compassionate New Yorkers (yes, there is such a thing) alike up in arms. Horses don’t belong in the city, and there really is nothing pretty about their treatment. So, in an effort to reveal the nightmare that this practice truly is, let’s take a look at NYC’s horse-drawn carriages …
1. Where Do NYC Carriage Horses Come From?
Clearly, New York is not exactly the kind of place where you would expect to find horses running unbridled and free, but the 200 odd horses currently serving as carriage horses had to come from somewhere.
According to Elizabeth Forel, president and co-founder of Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, “The Department of Health registers the carriage horses but they do not ask where the horses comes from … We believe that the many of the horses come from the Amish farms – or from trotter race tracks.”
These horses are referred to as “breakdowns” from these industries. Standardbred horses are trained to perform on harness racing tracks by being tethered to the back of a truck that accelerates to teach the horse to run faster. Carriage horse owners consider these horses “street savvy” after enduring this process at the tracks.
According to horse veterinarian, Holly Cheever, “many horses enter the carriage horse trade with a legacy of injuries.”
Forel tells OGP that horses are only allowed by law to be worked up to “the age of 26,” however, it should be noted that draft horses have an average life expectancy of 25. The majority of carriage horses are draft breeds.
Despite their large build, it is also important to remember that horses are naturally prey animals, which means they startle easily. This is a trait that will not disappear no matter how long the horse works as a carriage horse. The streets of New York are incredibly chaotic and many horses have caused accidents or been fatally injured after being spooked and veering out of lane.
2. Life on the Job
As we’ve established, carriage horses work nearly non-stop (like good New Yorkers) but what is life for a carriage horse really like? Let’s find out.
First the carriage horse needs to get dressed for the day. The horse is outfitted with a bridle around their head that is fastened extremely tightly to induce pain so the horse doesn’t jerk it’s head or veer off course. Bobby II, a former NYC carriage horse who was rescued by Equine Advocates, serves as a good example of what years of tight facial gear can do to a horse. Note the scars on the side of his cheek and top of his nose:
Next, the horses are strapped into the carriage. The average carriage weighs between 1,200 and 1,800 pounds. Although horses are known for their ability to pull heavy loads, being tasked with doing so for nine hours a day, seven days a week on the hard pavement of the city streets takes it toll.
Hours of Inhaling Car Exhaust
It is estimated that once a horse hits the streets for work, its life expectancy is cut in half. New York is ranked fifth in the top ten U.S. cities with the worst traffic, this high award comes coupled with high levels of air pollution. New York City government lists air pollution as a significant environmental threat, noting air pollution contributes to six percent of deaths in the city every year.
Horses are forced into this heavy traffic and to inhale massive amounts of exhaust on a daily basis. A study conducted back in 1985 concluded that inhaling noxious fumes caused damage to horse’s lung tissue.
A Future of Arthritis and Joint Damage
Holly Cheever, veterinarian and president of the New York Humane Society explains in a New York Times article, that, “Pounding the city streets’ hard, concussive surfaces for their long shifts can be a major problem.”
Horses are not designed to walk on hard, unforgiving surfaces for long periods of times and this extra wear takes a toll on their joints. Cheever continues, “Since many horses can have preexisting injuries or arthritis incurred in their previous uses on race tracks or Amish farms, their lameness increases.”
In 2013, a carriage horse driver was arrested on animal cruelty charges for forcing a horse to work on a severely injured hoof. The NYPD is in charge of enforcing humane laws for horse-drawn carriages, but these laws are barely enforced. This arrest is a bit of an isolated instance in which the law was actually enforced.
Lame horses are subject to euthanasia once they are deemed unfit for work. Some lame horses are sent to auction where they are sold to slaughterhouses. It is very rare that a former carriage horse is sent to sanctuary.
New York City weather tends to fluctuate at the extremes; winters temperatures can drop below zero, and summer temperature spike into the 90 and 100 degree Fahrenheit range. When temperatures reach over 90 or drop below 18 degrees, carriage horses are not permitted to work. However, the temperature on a thermometer does not always reflect the heat of asphalt.
Heat is especially dangerous for horses, Cheever states, “A horse loses 8 to 10 gallons of fluid with exercise in a hot environment; with high humidity, cooling by evaporation cannot occur and the horse’s core temperature continues to climb. And with the searing heat of New York City’s asphalt surfaces the temperature at street level in New York could be as much as 45 degrees higher than that recorded by the U.S. Weather Bureau.”
Horse-drawn carriage rides, however, are never deterred by the weather and horses are forced to work through heavy rains, snow, sleet, and high winds.
New York City streets are jammed with cars, taxis, buses, trucks and emergency vehicles. This environment is not only incredibly loud, but it is filled with external stimuli that could potentially startle a horse. Approximately 85 percent of carriage horse related traffic accidents resulted from a horse being “spooked.”
The natural response for a horse who is panicked is to take flight, which is made even more dangerous when a heavy cart is attached to the startled animal. In the past two years alone, there have been over 20 accidents in New York City. These accidents were all reported by witnesses, incidents involving horses do not need to be reported to the police, and the NYPD does not keep a formal record.
Traffic accidents are not only dangerous to horses, but to passengers and driver as well. Click here for a detailed record of accidents.
Home Sweet Home!
Real estate in New York City is notoriously pricey, and there is no exception for horses. Since it would be too time consuming to transport horses out of the city at nighttime (tunnel traffic … yikes!) they live in stables right in the heart of the city. These stables are not your typical horse stables, but rather the New York apartment version, meaning really old, and really small. This is what the stables look like from the outside:
The stables are too small for the horses to comfortably lie down. A 2007 audit of the stables revealed the buildings were not up to fire code, and the ramps between floors were far too steep for comfortable travel up and down (especially for older, arthritic horses).
Raids of stables have revealed that horses live without bedding, stall floors are covered with urine and manure, and ventilation is close to non-existent. Wooden floors have rotted to the point where they collapse under the weight of the horse, causing injury to horses.
But don’t worry, the horses don’t spend too much time here. Carriage horses are legally allowed to work nine hours a day, seven days a week. The horses are allowed five weeks of vacation time, where they are presumably sent to nearby farms or pastures to spend time “just being a horse,” although Forel explains, “there is no requirement for inspections of the facilities (farms) [where horses are sent] by the the Department of Health – nor does the Department of Health require a list of places.”
In fact, Dr. Corey, the director of equine veterinary services of the ASPCA’s humane law-enforcement department, once stated in an NY Post article, “We have observed some horses returning to New York City after furloughs on a farm in worse condition than when they left.”
There is no accountability in place to protect these horses and their individual care is up solely up to the people who use them to turn a profit.
3. What YOU CAN and MUST Do to Stop This Suffering
After reading this we’re sure a Green Monster such as yourself is pretty upset about the way these horses are suffering. The good news is that you have the power to make a difference by simply refusing to take a ride in horse-drawn carriage.
Boycott NYC Horse-Drawn Carriages
Don’t contribute another dollar to this abusive industry! Carriage drivers are motivated by their own profits to continue working the horses in their care, once the money runs out, so does the need to abuse these horses. Bill DeBlasio has promised to phase out the carriage horse, but while he takes his time to make this happen, hundreds of horses are suffering on the streets every day!
Leave a Review on Trip Advisor and Similar Sites
While your individual boycott will make a difference, you can magnify its impact by spreading the word and mobilizing with your fellow Green Monsters. Send the message loud and clear that New York City is no place for a horse!
Share this post in the review section of NYC Carriage Ride’s TripAdvisor page and the Carriage Ride in Central Park Yelp page to advise others not to patronize this attraction as long as they continue to exploit horses for profit.
Tell Bill DeBlasio the Time to Act is NOW!
Know of another attraction or establishment that should be banned for their treatment of animals? Let us know in the comments section so we can spread the word!
4. Take Action on Social Media NOW!
Participate in our social campaign and share why you are boycotting NYC horse-drawn carriages!
Share the graphic below to spread the facts about how NYC Carriage Horse drivers treat their animals OR make your own selfie sharing why you boycott this attraction.
See example below:
“#IMAGREENMONSTER because I BOYCOTT #NYC Horse-Drawn Carriages! Join me at @onegreenplanet http://onegr.pl/1t9jsHb”
When you know the truth, it’s your duty to share, so share away Green Monsters and let’s put an end to New York’s worst tourist attraction!
Lead image source: Librado Romero/New York Times