Newly elected Mayor of NYC Bill de Blasio has plans to rid the city’s streets of horse drawn carriages, putting an end to a time honored tradition. Arguments pro and con the move make a powerful debate.
Mayor de Blasio and many animal rights groups argue that carriages are inhumane using statistics about recent accidents to support their claims. Groups such as NYCLASS and ASPCA are backing the mayor. Those opposed believe the NYC horse drawn carriage trade is rooted in tradition, with antique cars or any other proposed replacement unable to replicate its fundamental appeal. Customers argue the horses are what attract costumers to this business, which earns the city nearly $19 million a year. Marriage operators, who fear the loss of jobs, are backed by the Teamsters Union and dismiss claims of inhumane treatment. They say each horse is given five weeks’ vacation time each year.
I have noted the debate, reading several articles on the subject. After reading The Daily Beast‘s “Mayor De Blasio’s Horse Policy Is a Pile of Manure” and perusing the predominately political comments, I found the space became a soapbox for libertarian issues, conservative and liberal politics, socialism and every other political persuasion. Readers showed very little concern for the horses or the focus of the article. After 30 years designing equine facilities that promote the health and safety of horses, and as illustrated in my book, Healthy Stables by Design, I am clearly an advocate for equine welfare.
Though I do not live in NYC, I know it well having visited many times. I own a timeshare two blocks from where the horse drawn carriages stand and wait (for what seems to be an endless amount of time). I spend about 3-4 weeks there annually, and periodically find myself running through Central Park for exercise when the weather allows. Neither resident nor tourist, I find New York the most interesting city and would love to live there full time. The only time I have had any “business” with horse drawn carriages was as a child and tourist with my parents. The only feelings I recall having at the time are a fascination with horses in the city and with the carriages in general, as I imagine any child would. I remember finding the whole experience odd in such a busy city, even as a child. That was over 50 years ago and it has only gotten busier.
My thoughts on the current situation are not based on the economics, jobs, tourism or historic context but concern for the horses’ wellbeing. Let me point out the act of having a horse pull a carriage is not inhumane in my opinion. During my visits I am always saddened watching these animals standing amongst polluting vehicles in traffic or waiting on the curb for patrons without the option of lying down to rest if tired. I have never seen the stables in which these horses are housed but have heard horror stories for years about the conditions that exist there. I imagine if people visited these terrible conditions they might think twice about their supportive stance on the issue of horse drawn carriages in the city. I certainly would welcome that opportunity if ever given the chance. I find it difficult to understand how people find an excursion at the expense of an animal condemned to these conditions inviting. I guess it is the history of horse drawn carriages that attracts riders and they are perhaps unaware that these animals are sentient beings who suffer the same way we do. Humans have domesticated horses for centuries and though they have been used as a so-called beast of burden, there is a difference between what “burden” is acceptable and when “burden” becomes abuse.
Part 2 of this article will be published on Wednesday, January 15, 2013 here.