Human beings are notorious for destroying this planet and acting as if they deserve to be here more than their fellow earthlings. Our ongoing attempt to establish dominion over nature manifests in many ways, namely regarding our treatment of other species of animals.
When most people think of horse-drawn carriages, they conjure up images of rose filled marriage proposals and magical horses galloping through winter’s first snowfall. If you examine these images more closely, however, you’ll uncover a much different story; a story of enslavement, imprisonment, and exploitation.
I recently decided to check out where the New York City carriage horses are held when they’re not dragging tourists around the bustling streets of Manhattan. As I approached Clinton Park Stables where 39 of the working horses live, I saw bars against the windows. It looked like a brightly-painted prison. I introduced myself to an employee standing outside the entrance and eagerly asked if I could meet the horses. I patiently waited for him as he went to get permission from another staff member. He returned a few moments later bearing a thumbs up and a smile and offered to take me up to see the horses. He asked that I not record any videos. I respectfully agreed and followed him up a steep incline toward the next floor.
The first thing I noticed was the narrow aisles that the horses must meander through every day. Next, rows and rows of horses in cages with thick metal bars. Each stall had a pile of hay in the corner but virtually no bedding for the horses to rest on. Their water trays were dirty, the air was thick and dusty, and unnatural fluorescent lighting flooded the entire floor.
When I took a closer look at the horses, I noticed friction burns, scars, and open wounds on their midsections from the straps that tether the wagons to their bodies. The public does not see these marks because they are normally concealed under equipment and extravagant costumes.
The gross objectification of these horses is also evident when you look at their hooves, which are branded with their carriage operator’s 4-digit ID. This further demonstrates their status as human property. I was not surprised to learn that carriage operators talk about their horses like inanimate objects and refer to “parking” their horses as if they are cars.
Proponents of this outdated industry argue that horse carriages are not inhumane because horses are strong animals. This is an interesting rebuttal because physical ability should not constitute duty. In other words, just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they should have to. A good way to determine if an animal is being exploited is to consider if the animal would willingly put themselves in that given situation.
NYC regulations allow each horse to pull a maximum of 4 adult passengers at one time. This does not include the “driver” or factor in the weight of the carriage itself. In total, these horses are often pulling over 1,000 lbs for long hours on hard pavement, slowly destroying their joints and hooves. As a result, the victims of this cruel industry often develop arthritis at a young age. It’s also common for them to develop respiratory ailments from breathing in exhaust fumes.
In 2007, NY Comptroller, William Thompson Jr., conducted a high-profile audit of the industry. He found that the horses were not provided with enough drinking water and risked overheating on hot asphalt. He also discovered that the horses lack proper veterinary care and were forced to live in their own waste due to inadequate drainage.
Making animals work in city streets not only poses danger to the horses, but it’s unsafe for passengers, pedestrians, and drivers too. Horses are known for becoming spooked very easily. When you consider how many horns and sirens you hear in the city, it’s easy to understand why there are dozens of documented accidents resulting in injuries and deaths of NYC horses.
Unfortunately, these horses are never given the chance to retire. When they are too weak to continue working, they are often sent to slaughter. The best thing we can do free these horses and prevent this from happening again is to boycott the industry. As consumers, we have the power to choose which industries we support. With so many alternatives to horse drawn carriages, there’s no excuse to continue enslaving horses for profit. All animals are capable of suffering and are worthy of our moral consideration.
Julia Nardi is a Main Street Vegan-Certified Vegan Lifestyle Coach and Educator. As a dedicated animal rights activist, Julia focuses her outreach on plant-based eating, animal exploitation, environmental advocacy, and the negative impact of agribusiness on human rights. As a vegan for nearly three years, Julia has a passion for helping others transition to a vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle. Find her on Instagram @Julia4TheAnimals and check out her website.