The debate on whether horse carriages belong in the streets of New York City continues. Over the last few months I have published two, two-part blogs on the controversy of horse carriages in New York City. Those articles can be read here: “New York City: No Place for a Horse (Part 1/2),” “New York City: No Place for a Horse (Part 2/2),” “Horses in Cities: Part I- No NYC Horse Ban Just Yet,” “Horses in Cities” Part II – Arabbers in Baltimore.” New York Mayer Bill de Blasio is the root to the controversy, as he stated his intention to remove the horse carriages from the city altogether due to his feeling the industry is inhumane. I will argue there is a fine line of what’s inhumane about the situation at hand. Horse carriages in New York City are not in themselves inhumane. What’s inhumane in my opinion is having the horses stand for hours on hard surfaces while harnessed to a carriage and having to share space with hectic street traffic.
A solution? I think there is a positive solution to rid any question of inhumanity towards the horses while still keeping the horse-carrying business alive and the amenity available to the public. I recently read a statement by Mindy Levine, the wife of New York Yankee’s president, Randy L. Levine where she proposed the idea to have the horse carriages operate solely in Central Park along with riding stables and therapeutic riding facilities. I completely agree. I worked for a similar concept about six years ago though it was not in relation to the horse drawn carriage controversy. At the time my interest was to see more equestrian amenities provided in Central Park. Though that effort was largely unsuccessful, I still feel it would be good for Central Park and an obvious solution to the horse drawn carriage controversy. It could be the best solution.
In a recent New York Times publication written by actor Liam Neeson, the latest Quinnipiac poll proves 64 percent of New York participants want to see horse carriages remain in the city. A true advocate for horse carriages in New York City, Neeson pointed out most of the horse carriage drivers are immigrants who often times were brought up living on farms and tending for horses stating, “they love their jobs and their horses, and they take pride in being ambassadors for this great city.” I am not qualified to address that issue or the condition of the stables in which the horses are stabled, often an argument provided as proof of inhumane treatment and for eliminating the industry. If that is a problem and I have no way of knowing since I have not observed their stable care or visited the stables, then that issue could possibly be addressed without eliminating the industry entirely from the city or eliminating the drivers, grooms, or caregivers their jobs.
I will continue to be tuned in to any developments in New York City, as I am very passionate about the equine industry, the health and care of horses and would like to keep horse carriages in cities. Horses in cities are part of our heritage and I think there is a solution for retaining some form of that heritage. Fake vintage electric cars do not do it for me but neither does horse drawn carriages on busy 21st century crowded urban streets either. They belong but they belong in the park. Horses have been domesticated to be our “beast of burden” and in my opinion, there is nothing inhumane about the existence of horse carriages when treated properly and appropriately placed.
Renowned equestrian architect and author of Healthy Stables by Design, John Blackburn spoke at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, VA on April 17. The successful event lasted for about two and a half hours including Blackburn’s book signing and a presentation on his approach for designing barns for the health and safety of horses. The presentation was followed by a question and answer period and individual discussions about barn design and barn preservation. Curator of Fellowships and Rare Books at the National Sporting Library, Lisa Campbell introduced Blackburn at the event.
Among those present was Jacqueline Mars, an avid equestrian supporter shown through her efforts as a trustee of the U.S. Equestrian Team and a Board member of the National Sporting Library and Fine Art Museum. Joe Fargis, a U.S. Olympic gold medal winner in show jumping; Vicky Moon, a talented equestrian writer and photographer; Mariann Payne, Director of Principal Gifts of the Trust for the National Mall; and Lester Buckley, a client of Blackburn’s in Hawaii and owner of Buckley Sport Horses, LLC. were also in attendance. Buckley’s website can be seen here.
The presentation was broken into three parts in which Blackburn began with a little history and background on how he got started designing for horses and the topic of designing stables around the health and safety of horses. Blackburn also discussed the details of his book Healthy Stables By Design. While telling the history, Blackburn included his first client Clarice Smith, owner of Heronwood Farm in Upperville, VA. Blackburn recognized Clarice Smith as an extremely valuable client. Mrs. Smith was unable to attend due to injuries from a fall just days before.
Incidentally, Clarice Smith has a special show of her equestrian art at her National Sporting Museum on view from April 11 to September 28 2014, adjacent to the library. Her show called Power and Grace illustrates her talent for painting, her passion for horses, and her love of her farm, Heronwood.
A number of copies of Blackburn’s book were sold, with proceeds to the National Sporting Library to support funding efforts.
The Town Council of Middleburg, VA hosted a book signing on April 6 for award-winning architect John Blackburn at The Hill School auditorium. In addition to discussing his latest book Healthy Stables By Design, Blackburn spoke on methods of building green and sustainable barns. Second Chapter Books, a local bookstore organized the event that was sponsored by the Middleburg Go Green Committee.
Blackburn discussed his methods of using natural, local, and recycled materials in conjunction with natural climate to create healthy environments for horses. Also at the event, Co-Owner with husband Michael Alba of Solar Odyssey, Ann Alba gave a presentation on renewable energy methods in your home. Alba serves as the Vice-Chair of the Purcellville Environment Committee and as the Vice President of Sustainable Loudoun. Solar Odyssey specializes in installing residential and commercial solar powered systems.
Blackburn’s book is currently available to purchase at Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, VA. In addition, Healthy Stables By Design can be purchased here with all author proceeds given to equine charities.
It was a very busy day for author and award-winning equine architect John Blackburn at Cazenovia College in New York. On April 14, Blackburn spoke in the college’s McDonald Lecture Hall to over fifty equine business students as well as various other faculty and students interested about his book Healthy Stables By Design, and his philosophy on designing barns and planning farms for the health of horses. Blackburn believes focusing on the health and safety of horses is important above all when designing a barn and planning the farm.
Associate Professor of Equine Business Management and Head Equestrian Team Coach, Amy Sherrick-von Schiller organized the event. Barbara Lindberg, Program Director of Equine Business Management, and Associate Professor of Equine Business Management at Cazenovia College drove all the way from Lexington, KY that day to attend the event.
Blackburn’s trip to Cazenovia was full of tours as he had the pleasure of visiting the farm of John and Beezie Madden guided by Farm Manager and Cazenovia Equine Program graduate, Amy DeVisser. Beezie is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner in show jumping, coached by her husband John, who runs his business John Madden Sales from their farm located in Cazenovia. The other tours included the equestrian center of Cazenovia College and the barn and arena of Sherrick-von Schiller.
Blackburn also spoke about incorporating sustainability into the design of the horse and layout of the farm, and described the Blackburn Greenbarn Concept (http://www.blackburngreenbarns.com.) He stressed the importance of protecting the horse in order to protect the owners four principle investments: the initial cost of the horse, the training of the horse, the maintenance and upkeep of the horse, and finally and perhaps the most important the emotional investment the owner has in the horse.
Blackburn presented a signed copy of his book to the school library for the benefit of current and future students.
It was a perfectly sunny day at the Paradise Springs Winery in Clifton, VA when award-winning architect John Blackburn came for a visit. On Sunday April 13 an enthusiastic group of invited guests welcomed Blackburn, ready to learn more about his book Healthy Stables By Design. After giving a detailed presentation on his barn building methodologies and book, Blackburn and other attendees experienced a tour and tasting. Jeffrey Gregorio of Merrill Lynch Health Management hosted the event.
Among those in attendance was CEO and Founder of Paradise Springs Winery, Kirk Wiles. In addition, Founder of Brody Group, LLC, Michael Brody, and Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program Board Chair Rhonda VanLowe were present at the event. VanLowe also serves as Legal Counsel of Rolls-Royce North America, Inc. and is a loyal client of Blackburn Architects.
VanLowe spoke at the event where she discussed the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide equine-assisted activities to those with disabilities, youth-at-risk, military service personnel, and their families. Blackburn is designing the new Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program facility, which is currently in permit phase waiting to start construction intended to begin in November 2014. For those who are interested, contributions to the construction of the new Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program facility can be made here.
Copies of Blackburn’s book were sold at the event, with proceeds to the Northern Virginia Therapeutic Riding Program.
Stable Scoop Radio Show, Episode 292 is all about John Blackburn and Healthy Stables by Design! John was first featured on the radio show back in 2009 for episode 33 and returns 5 years later to talk about his book and designing a healthy barn for your horses. Check out the segment here.
Every year the village of Wellington in West Palm Beach, Florida hosts one of the most anticipated horse events across the globe. The FTI Winter Equestrian Festival is the longest yearly equestrian event worldwide, held this year from January 8th to March 30th. I attended the festival for the first time 15 years ago. I would go on to attend at least once a year for 8 consecutive years after that. Breaking a 7-year hiatus, I traveled to again from February 28th through March 1st to the Wellington Winter Equestrian Festival. This was the 8th weekend of 2014’s event and I was reminded of what I had been missing. I was amazed at how much the place has changed and how much more crowded it had become (for the better from my perspective at least, though probably a nightmare to many.) There were more horses and riders than you can imagine in one place.
On Friday I had the pleasure of attending the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup presented by G&C Farms, a competition of equine show jumping. The competition lasted late into the evening and included 45 riders from 12 countries. Canada prevailed in the $75,00 competition, followed by Great Britain in second, and the United States in third. There was some outstanding competition from the other countries participating; including Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, and Venezuela.
On Saturday morning I had the opportunity to tour the farms of Victoria McCullough and Marcia Radosevich, two prominent names in Wellington and the world of horses. Victoria is a familiar face on Capital Hill where she advocates against horse slaughter and the distribution of horsemeat for human consumption. We will feature Victoria soon in a special blog series called “Crusaders for Equine.” She has rescued hundreds of horses, 20 of which reside on her Wellington Farm. She is looking to purchasing a large farm in Maryland.
Marcia, a Wellington resident and Wellington board member has lent her voice to the debate of the commercializing the city’s Equestrian Preserve. She, like many others who have invested significantly into their horse properties, sees the good in the continued development of Wellington as a hub for equestrianism but not at the cost of the land values. Marcia is an advocate for green concepts as is evident in exploring her property. The roof of her barn is covered in solar panels, which have taken the building completely off of the grid. She also uses recycled rainwater collected from her paddocks employing a unique sun shelter design that not only collects rain water but allows the shadows to move with the sun protecting the grass and soil.
That afternoon I attended the horse show and hung out at the Amberway Equine booth were I met riders, trainer, owners, some potential clients and signed copies of my book “Healthy Stables by Design.” It was a beautiful day, especially considering I left DC with 6 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the teens and single digits.
Sunday marked the day of the premiere polo match at the International Polo Club of Palm Beach. The weather was absolutely perfect and brought out a great crowd. I was a guest of Mason Phelps, founder and president of Phelps Media Group and sat at his table of 12 on the rail.
Important to note is the tragic loss earlier that week in the untimely death of Carlos Gracida. He died in a freak polo accident while playing polo in Wellington. Flags remained at half-staff in honor of Gracida who trained royalty or his lifetime. A memorial service was held at International Polo Club the day before. He will be missed but never forgotten.
The polo match that afternoon put Team Orchard Hill and Team Valiente head to head in the finals of the C.V. Whitney Cup. The match was closely contested in the beginning but saw Valiente pull away to a 12-8 victory.
Following the match I rushed to the airport to fly back to DC only to find all flights north had been cancelled due to bad weather in the Northeast. I was “forced” to stay in Wellington another two days and suffer through the 70 to 80 degree temperatures and gorgeous sun while everyone in DC was digging out of yet another snowstorm. Woe is me.
In Horses in Cities: Part I I wrote about the on going debate for the place of horse carriages in metropolitan areas such as New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Similar to that discussion is the argument over Arabbers in Baltimore. Arabbers are merchants who travel door-to-door selling fresh produce that is pulled by a horse and wagon. Arabbers have been part of Baltimore’s history for over 100 years. The carts have developed a base of frequent costumers, many of whom are senior citizens who cannot travel to grocery stores as often as they might like. This convenience and historical significance make powerful cases for maintaining place Arabbers on city streets.
Much like the debate in NYC, these horse driven wagons came under fire from animal rights activists who claimed that stabling conditions for horses were inhumane. Stables housing horses have been shut down due to building code violations and accusations of mistreatment. I agree current stabling is in poor condition and definitely needs replacement but that does not justify the removal of the Arabbers from the street. They play an important and integral part of the inner city community. Daniel Van Allen is the president and founder of the Arabber Preservation Society and has been at the forefront of the effort to keep Arabbers on Baltimore’s streets. In 2013, the APS added new stalls and renovated old stalls at the Arabber Center and released 8 new carriages to operate in Baltimore. It is a step in the right direction and like many good causes they need funding, donations, grants, etc.
It is interesting to compare the use of horses in NYC to those in Baltimore. Generally conditions in Baltimore are not as tough as those in NYC. My argument against horse carriages in NYC is their use on busy congested city streets, their standing long hours on hard surfaces waiting for a customer and their questionable stabling situation. Arabber horses are typically used in residential areas and not high traffic areas, which the horses in NYC encounter. They provide a useful service to the poor communities of the inner city and employ the use of horses in a traditional way. For these reasons, we are hoping to work with the Arabbers in Baltimore to provide them decent stabling and a museum about the history of the Arabbers. Our goal in that effort is to provide them safe healthy stabling and care at the same time we preserve inner city heritage, jobs and provide a community service.
I support preservation of our historic heritage especially when it serves as a useful community service (food services to the poor inner city neighborhoods) as in the case of the Arabbers and independent employment to members of the community. There are a lot of other efforts (community farming, farmers markets, community supported not for profit groceries and buyers clubs, etc) being made today to provide quality food to the under served communities of the inner city. Arabbers are a part of this service and while they predate many of the newer ones, they are an initiative worth protecting and preserving.
Are you interested in learning more or getting involved with Arabber preservation?
A couple of months ago, I published a two-part blog on the controversy of horse carriages in New York City. I shared that while I believed there is a place in NYC for horse carriages, I do not believe the city’s streets are this haven. I believe a better place to offer horse carriage rides is Central Park, not only for the horses but for business as well. I will not belabor that point in this blog but I encourage you to take a look back to New York City: No Place for a Horse to grasp my complete perspective on the matter.
Since the first mention of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s intent to remove horse carriages from NYC streets (and my previously mentioned blog) there has been no definitive action toward this resolution. Parties in support of the mayor’s initiative say they simply have not introduced a bill or selected sponsors. Their side now faces added pressure from a new medical study. Recently, Veterinarian Sarah Ralston, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVN, a professor in the Rutgers University Department of Animal Sciences, has provided her expert opinion to the debate. She does not believe horse carriages to be inhumane and finds a ban would not be necessary to protect the animal’s best interest. In fact, she believes the routine of carriages horses enhances quality of life and helps to better maintain good health.
Pat Raia, journalist for The Horse and author of Carriage Horse Controversy Extends Beyond New York City quotes Ralston as saying:
“The carriage horses, on the whole, are showing no signs of distress or unwillingness to work when asked to do so,” asserted Ralston. “They are well adapted to their environment. If they weren’t, they would not last long on the streets… If a horse is in its stall without access to pasture, but is getting quality basic care and regular exercise, should we say that this horse is being abused, or is it cruel to ask a horse to do a job that it is well-trained for and capable of doing without distress? … This is the norm for a majority of the horses kept in urban and suburban settings, and this (kind of legislation) sends a terrible precedent that should have the entire horse industry up in arms” (Raia).
In my opinion, Ms Ralston’s argument that horse carriages in themselves are not necessarily inhumane is correct but I do not necessarily accept her argument that “They (horses) are well adapted to their environment. If they weren’t, they would not last long on the streets.” Not the most sensitive concern for the welfare of the horse in my opinion. Do the horses have any say in the matter? Of course not. They are there because they are domesticated beast of burden but that doesn’t mean they should be subjected to a live or die trying situation. I repeat, my concern that horses standing for long hours on hard surfaces whether it be on the city streets or in a barn aisle or wash stall is abusive treatment.
Previously, the preeminent argument of the side in favor of horse carriages was fear of mass job loss and the removable of a historical and cultural fixture in the city’s history. Surely, the debate will become more interesting given this development.
New York City is not the only metropolitan taking a look at its regulations for horse carriages. Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Chicago are all following suit. Each city has recently reviewed regulations surrounding horse carriages. While Philadelphia and Salt Lake City’s revisions would allow horse carriages to remain a part of city life, legislation has been introduced Chicago that could potentially put an end to carriage ride, ceasing the issue of new “licenses until all such licenses have expired.” I will certainly be tuned in to developments in these cities as well as New York City.