Boston Globe Opinions: The carriage horses are fine

NYC Horse Carriage rides debate

One of the problems with the NYC horse carriage debacle is the political gaming for real money going on by both sides. While this article only scratches the surface of the true debate, it does show that there is still national interest in the fate of the horses of the NYC Carriage rides. ~ HfH

From: The Boston Globe Opinion Page
By: Jennifer Graham

NYC Horse Carriage rides debateIn the parlance of equestrians, a “bomb-proof” horse is one that will calmly perform all tasks asked of it, will cross streams and intersections without hesitation, and will stay quiet and docile even if a firecracker explodes near its face.

The bomb-proof horse, like the unicorn, is a myth. Permanently stabled on the lowest rung of the food chain, horses are controlled not by people, but by their ancient brains, which constantly scan the landscape for danger — be it a wolf, a plastic bag borne by a breeze, or a New York mayor threatening their jobs in a perilous economy.

Believing that the horse-drawn carriages in his city are inhumane, Bill de Blasio is vowing to shut them down. In doing so, he divides two constituencies that should be family. Both sides consist of people who care deeply about horses, but sharply differ on what’s in the best interest of the animals.

Though horse-drawn carriages have been less controversial here than in New York, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has strong feelings on the subject: “These horses are forced to work in an unnatural and dangerous environment. Countless horses have been injured or killed by cars, or died prematurely as a result of the strain. Domestic horses need the mental and physical stimulation of having a job, and things like hay rides or weddings away from congestion are fine. But these scenarios are nothing like those faced by horses used to pull carriages in major cities.”

In contrast, the American Horse Council says this: “Horses are involved in a great number of diverse activities and work. There is no reason to believe pulling a carriage in an urban environment is in itself harmful to the welfare of a horse.”

To all this, the average Bostonian might say, “Who cares?” There are millions of people out of work in this country. By comparison, the fate of 200 carriage horses in Manhattan is like a fly on a mare’s withers, an insignificance flicked away with a shrug. Horses, once the nation’s over-the-road truckers, are a shrinking demographic. There are 9.2 million horses in the nation, of which about 2.5 million are gainfully employed in jobs such as racing, farming, rodeos, and law enforcement. Most are pleasure horses. Yet even as such, only 1 in 63 Americans has regular contact with horses, according to Horse Council data.

This is why to encounter a horse-drawn carriage on a city street is a visceral delight, a sight (and smell) uncommon to urban senses. This is why, to many of us, it’s still a thrill to see them. When anti-carriage lobbyists show pictures of horses lying dead or injured on city streets, they necessarily omit the snapshots of delighted children nuzzling the big beasts — sometimes the only horses an urban child will encounter.

In this capacity, the carriage horses are as useful as they are in ferrying brides and tourists. The child who strokes a draft horse in harness becomes a child who wants riding lessons, and who watches “The Black Stallion” and reads “Black Beauty,” and grows up to lobby with PETA against carriages — or, just as likely, to drive a carriage horse herself. Never do abusers outnumber the caring, and it’s not wise to govern at the whip of extremes.

Moreover, while there are miscreants in the carriage industry, and regulation is necessary to keep both animals and the people around them safe, there is no guarantee that an idyllic life at pasture will in all ways be better. Two years ago, a horse was set deliberately set afire while at rest in a Pennsylvania field. As Hobbes famously said, life in the state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short, and an abundance of clover may not change that basic fact. Meanwhile, there’s a solution to the problem that de Blasio seems to have overlooked, but which I would support: Keep the horses in our city centers. Expel the cars.

Read Original Opinion Piece – Boston Globe


  • The author clearly demonstrates her ignorance of horses when she attempts to be humorous by suggesting that DeBlasio is perceived as a “threat” to horses, by the horses themselves. This article is talk-show quality-not a serious examination of the need for a new sensibility as to what can be humanely expected of all animals in the 21st century.

    February 24, 2014
  • Sue

    Michael Blowen, operator of Old Friends Equine, used to work at the Boston Globe. You might like to contact him for his opinion, or ask him to write a rebuttal to Jennifer Graham.

    February 24, 2014
  • Mustangman

    What I dont understand is why cant the horses just be restricted to the park? Off the vehicle roads? There are options here that the city, the horse operators and welfare advocates can meet at. I agree, the horses need to be off the streets for their own safety. I agree that the care for them needs to improve 200% with proper enforcement but what I dont understand is why its one way or the other.

    February 24, 2014
    • Ronnie

      Mustangman, Years ago, this was proposed by NYC & other organizations, that the horses only work in Central Park

      The carriage trade, vehemently vetoed this. The carriage trade wanted the horses carrying on the streets of NY AND in the Park.

      February 24, 2014
  • To Sue-That is a good idea-to Mustangman-my personal experience on another discussion site with carriage drivers is that they are outrageously abusive and aggressive to opponents of the trade-I was repeatedly accused of abusing my own sanctuary horses, being a hypocrite, etc etc by drivers with whom I thought I was having a philosophical discussion. When I suggested that I would have been happy to host a driving clinic at our rural Sanctuary done by a driver in need of work I was quite literally attacked and my animals were referred to as inferior.(All on the internet but I am quite sure the drivers behave this way in person as well.) In short-these are unpleasant and in fact disliked people about whom New Yorkers do not care (as apart from the horses, about whom New Yorkers DO care.)Clearly, as Fitch points out, money is involved, but the drivers themselves are not worth defending on any level in a city where issues like homelessness, joblessness, security, infrastructure, etc should be taking precedence. The drivers have been unreasonable and unrealistic about the direction of animal rights from day one.

    February 24, 2014
  • Callie1983

    I have seen these horses and their ‘Stables’. They have great feet and are friendly. The drivers must be taught to Drive as Carriage Driving is an Olympic Sport. It is not easy to drive a Carriage and it takes at least a year to learn to do it properly. They must be Licensed to drive a carriage.

    These horses must be Stabled in Central Park and NEVER leave the Park. Having them there all the time will be in line with the Central Park Conservancy and Mayor Bloomberg could have built them stables in the Sheep’s Meadow where they were originally.

    The Carriage drivers are sometimes friendly and most times not if you know anything about horses. They are all TEAMSTERS and have held onto their Medallions due to heredity. They are a very closed group of people. It would cost Mayor diBlasio in excess of 20 Million dollars to buy the Medallions back from the Teamster Carriage Drivers.

    If the horses stayed in Central Park forever I would not have a problem with it. Knowing the dangers they face on the City streets is the real problem. We do NOT need Carriage rides in Midtown Manhattan and we do not care if some film star wants to go down Park Avenue just because they can pay the fare. A line must be drawn and enforced for the sake of these horses.

    February 24, 2014
    • jfinch

      While Joe Katz might be well meaning, we once again have someone throwing ideas out as facts. There is a very vast difference between animal rights and animal welfare. To say that a majority of “animal rights” advocates come from locations that have no animals – without showing any surveys or statistics, without any measurable evidence is a fault in logic, as is most of the rest of his article.

      The majority of readers of this site are animal WELFARE advocates. Most have animals. We don’t like slaughter of horses. We really, seriously, don’t like animal abuse of any kind. I see nothing wrong with those beliefs.

      February 24, 2014
  • Callie1983

    I agree with Jerry, we are advocates for animal welfare and not animal rights. Why cannot animals have rights? They are in the same Ethical sphere as are children who also have no rights except human rights. This means Society at Large is responsible as a whole for looking after them. They are not in a position to reciprocate and reciprocity is a requirement for having rights such as the ‘Right’ to Vote, and all the other Rights encompassed in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.

    In the US CRUELTY to any child or animal is not permitted due to the responsibility of Society having to look after these vulnerable Populations.

    Do horses think? Yes they do! My 23 year old Quarterhorse thinks it is ‘fun’ to spook about 20 feet to the left or right depending where he is going. I have had him since he was a Colt and it became a game because he gives me cues he is going to do it. I just sit there and go his way and ignore it because I never fall off. I actually enjoy it! Nobody but I and a few select people are allowed to ride my horse. He THINKS and he PLANS when he is going to spook.

    Thanks Jerry for explaining the difference between ‘Advocacy’ and ‘Activism’.

    February 25, 2014
  • Maggie Frazier

    Jerry, I agree with you about the readers on THIS site – that we are animal welfare advocates. And there is a difference! I also think that many in the animal rights group do tend to think about animals in HUMAN terms. Having always had dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens & ducks, and having been involved with horses (hands on) – I can honestly say all of the animals that were part of my family over the years had a home for their entire lives with me and were taken care of at the end of their lives. And I’m positive that you & the readers here can probably all say the same thing. Unfortunately, many people aren’t that lucky – I think it means a lot for a little kid who otherwise would never have the opportunity to be close to a horse, can just go up & pat a carriage horse or a police horse. Maybe it makes a convert – you never know.

    February 25, 2014