The Real Story Behind Central Park Horse Conditions by Rain Dove Dubilewski
WARNING! The blog you are about to read is on a VERY controversial issue. The views that I am expressing are MY own personal views. My PERSONAL opinion is neither right nor wrong. It is simply how I see this issue based on MY experiences. It is subject to change over time and with new information. I am NOT an expert. I am NOT involved with either organization. So before you read further and have a conniption – keep in mind to THINK FOR YOURSELF. I am sharing what I have learned with you to form or solidify your OWN opinion about this issue. The following is a true documented account.
“Cruelty! You should be ashamed of yourself! You are supporting animal cruelty! Ugly- Ugly! You’re so ugly right now!” They shouted at me. “Ugly man in the dress! Listen to us! These animals pulling your carriage eat food covered in pigeon excrement, they get hit daily by cars, they are abused by the owners and beaten daily! Evil! You are supporting evil people!”
Fashion week- first night, first runway show. The designer decides for us to ride in horse carriages to show off his new collection… and the voices of hundreds of angry animal rights activists greet me unexpectedly to tell me that the minute I step into a carriage I am stepping into the life of an animal that is suffering. News crews, reporters, bloggers, photographers swarmed me— I could not control them. The police could not control the crowd. And everything was happening so fast that I felt I could not properly understand what was going on. Someone handed me a sticker to hold with a slogan on it and I did NOT know what it was for— what I was representing and frankly if I wanted to be involved.
I did not want to end up being a face of animal cruelty in the news the next day.
However, I’m not the type to just believe something simply because someone says it to me. Even if that someone is a mob of animal rights people with compelling images of dead horses being shoved in my face. I need to research facts myself, explore topics myself, have my own conclusions. So I maintained my professional contract, did my job, laughed as much as I could to shrug off the craziness of it all, rode in the carriage, asked the driver about his horse, and vowed that the next day I would find out the truth.
Are carriage horses starved, dehydrated, worked to death, and quartered in dastardly living conditions as stated by the animal rights activists?
Is the carriage industry slavery? Or a solution from species slaughter?
My name is Rain. I am an androgynous model (hence the man in the dress comments some slung…) sigh. I love animals. I love most people 😉 And – I love education. Some might believe that as a model I dont have the brain cells nor the knowledge of what to look for to investigate this topic thoroughly but that is not true. I do have an entire childhood spent growing up on a farm, and a degree from UC Berkeley – one of the most activist driven schools in the country. PLUS – ALL people deserve the right to education and to be educated. EVERY person should be able to seek truth for themselves the way they know best – qualified or not in other people’s eyes.
So I set up a meeting with the stables to investigate myself. I knew I might see some really upsetting things, so I took along colleague, friend, and a person who has a history of asking the hard questions- Gina Doost from WhatTheDoost.com. I know that she isn’t the type to just let people BS us. Before my meeting with the stables, Gina and I reach out through social media, phone calls, and email to animals rights activists and the common world to ask them what their concerns are about carriage horses. This is the list we comprised of the top ten general concerns people had. (We also created a list of over a hundred questions to ask about every detail that goes on in this controversial industry.)
- Food is poor quality, has pigeon excrement in it, and is left out for rats to roll in.
- Horses are left at the stables alone for days without water, and dont receive water on the job site either (Central Park).
- The barns are freezing cold in the wintertime and boiling hot in the summer because they don’t have good ventilation.
- The horses are worked to death and never get a day off.
- When the horses are too old to work – they are sold to slaughterhouses.
- Horses get hit by cars all the time and are subject to traffic.
- Drivers beat their horses and whip them.
- Horses do not have free space to run and frolic in a field.
- Many of the horses are lame because the asphalt is too hard on their feet.
- Pollution goes up the horses noses and they have to breathe in exhaust all day.
Heres an account of what happened
(To see the above list ANSWERED based on my discoveries, scroll to the bottom. If any answer seems unlikely to you, find the reasoning for that answer in this blog below):
When I arrived at the horse barns I noticed that it remarkably blended in with its surroundings- in a quieter part of NYC across from a park/playground. The front wall had a planter blooming with happy looking plants and there was a very adament NO SMOKING sign there. Most importantly- there was a fire escape on the outside. PHEW. I was wondering how the horses would get out in case of a fire. O.O
We were greeted by a small but beaming crew of people. A horse carriage driver, a photographer named Nina, and Sandi a videographer. They were all so excited to see me there that shaking their hands was like grasping a wiggly puppy.
The first thing I noticed was that the barn was mostly empty on the first floor. There were several fire extinguishers on the walls, another NO SMOKING sign, and a single lonely carriage teetering in a dark corner. It seemed to be staring at me. The driver began the tour immediately as if we were on schedule (and we kind of were, I had a fashion show in just a couple hours). She talked to Gina the long time the stable had been open for, how the city had practically been created by horses, and how it would be a shame to take the horses out of the city when they worked so hard to create it.
Now, let me play devil’s advocate here- the Egyptian pyramids, Mayan temples, and the Great Wall of China were all built on slave labor…. and you don’t see any of those places keeping slaves around pretending to work or maintaining the buildings for “nostalgic purposes.” However, you DO see families and individuals whose family originated from those slaves, and they live freely by choice within the city realms of those creations. Those families often take great pride and ownership in “having built their city;” but they live there by CHOICE…keyword. Do the horses have a choice to be in NYC?! (Answered way below in convo with Stable Manager)
I asked to see the first place of concern. THE GRAIN BINS. Protesters had told me that the animals are fed grain covered in pigeon excrement, that the grain is left out and soiled, and that it is unhealthy for the horses. The basic necessities of life are FOOD, SHELTER, & WATER – so if the food is tainted… that is a MAJOR issue. I was whisked over the cement floor to a corner where two metal drums in the shape of mini silos with a pour spouts at the bottom stood.
“What’s this made out of?” Gina asked.
“Steel…” Christina answered.
It doesnt seem very likely that pigeons could coo and feather there way INTO the metal containers for nesting and pooping pleasures.
“Is this where the grain is kept?” I asked.
“May I take a look at some?”
Christina says “of course” and pulls out a bucket already filled with grain. She mentions that this was swept up off the floor that morning. I saw some feathers in it- likely from the tiny songbirds that were flitting around- but nothing else. The feathers were a bit bothersome to me- but I’ve seen a horse eat a mouse before in a field so—— likely the feathers won’t bother it much. However, I wasn’t going to trust that a prepoured bucket of grain was indicative of what was actually in the metal drums.
“Can I see some from the drum please?” I ask.
Christina doesn’t even hesitate, she takes a clean lid and pours some grain into it. I pick it up and get REALLY close to inspect for mold, poop, baby crocodiles – anything that could indicate mishandling. There were kernels of soft corn, oats, what appeared to be some other type of grain, and a sweet sticky coating. This was the same type of feed I used to feed my goats in Vermont. It was a sweet feed. I show it to Gina who squints at it too.
“Is this sweet feed?” I ask
Christina nods. She mentions that there is a dry feed as well that is for horses who prefer otherwise or don’t do so well with the sweetfeed. I ask to see grain from that silo too. Also apparently clean.
“How much grain do you go through?”
Christina says “a lot,” but doesnt know the total. She’s just a driver and is not the stable manager–apparently those numbers are with that person. Damn- I’ll def have to come back and visit again.
“Is this organic?”
Christina explains that the grain comes from Amish farms and that she is not sure if it is organic or not. In my opinion, if the ingredients are from the Amish- they are unlikely to be sprayed with chemicals or GMO. However, another question for the Stable Manager.
“Are drivers required to feed their horses this?”
Christina says “no” but this IS what all the drivers seem to use – it’s not like a driver is stashing a secret bag of evil moldy grain in the corner for their pony maliciously. However, the possibility that a driver COULD feed their horse differently if they wanted to is still there.
“Is there a regulated standard for sanitation? Like a food handlers safety certificate process the drivers have to go through to make sure they are aware of how to safely handle their animals food? Or is there a person in the barn who handles sanitation standards? Are the drivers regulated on their feeding processes or required to take a class so they know how much to feed the horses, how much to water them, how to recognize stale or sour feed? Etc?” I realized that this was a lot of questioning, but Christina handled it well- even though, she did appear a bit flustered. Gina gives me the “woah kid calm down look” (I have a very intense face when I ask things…)
“Those are questions for the stable manager mostly. But, the drivers do take very good care of the horses and know how much to feed them. They all have varying dietary needs based on their age and breed…just like people.” I guess that would be hard to regulate different dietary needs for each horse-— but what about basic sanitation standards and handling the grains? I pocketed that question for the stable manager.
When I worked on the farm – we didn’t have written standards for sanitation, we just did stuff. We cleaned out the buckets every day, mucked the stalls in the morning and in the evening if needed, aired out the hay to prevent mold, and kept everything tightly sealed to prevent from rodents and birds. No one needed to tell me how to do those things, they were just common sense. Should seemingly common sense things be regulated?? Well – if you want equal welfare opportunity for all creatures – then yes.
“Do you clean out the inside of the metal drums? Like- I could imagine that if they are not properly cleaned out regularly, that maybe some small amounts of unused grain could sit in there for a long period of time, get moldy, and perhaps make a horse sick if it were to make it to the pour spout. Do you have a schedule for cleanings, or-” I was assured that the drums are definitely cleaned out, but that as far as a schedule for that goes I need to see—- the Stable Manager.
I think about the carriage that had been staring at me in the corner. I ask about traffic laws for horses.
Christina tells me that the horses have the right of way. I ask if the carriages have to abide by the same traffic laws as other vehicles. Specifically, do they have signal lights?
Christina tells me that some carriages have signal lights on them, but the most common practice is for the driver to signal to the vehicles behind them which direction they are going. I suggest that ALL carriages should have signal lights on them, as if they were vehicles, to maximize the opportunity for drivers to communicate with the carriages. Christina is pretty firm that this is not necessary. She gives me a raised eyebrow and laughs that only a complete idiot would not be able to see a massive carriage. In my opinion though, every step, every measure possible that can be taken to prove that these horses (especially in the transportation department) that their safety is ensured should be taken. Even if it’s just for show. Something as simple as just having those lights there can put to rest fears from a mostly un-horse-educated public. Plus… Why risk the occasional idiots? More than a handful DO exist.
We decided to go upstairs and visit the horses in their stalls. To get up to the second floor, we walked up a semi steep ramp covered in black rubber mats. It definitely was a slope – but it wasn’t slippery. Apparently, according to Christina and Nina – this was a point of concern for the activists. They believed that the steep slope was dangerous for the horses and that they couldnt see very well going down them— and perhaps that they may break their horsey ankles on the incline/decline.
The degree of the slope didn’t concern me personally, it didn’t seem like something any horse I’ve worked with would have an issue on. However, maybe it WAS difficult for the horses to see? I mean- what colors do horses see anyways? So I researched and discovered that horses see the blue and green spectrums exceptionally well—- especially green. And that they can see varying stages of light which means – they can see black. But, that they have a much dimmer (almost sepia) view of darker tones. So perhaps a solution to keep the ramp in place would be to put GREEN floor mats down instead so the horses have the maximum opportunity to see where they are going…. or at least paint the mats green with a sticky rubber/latex coating so they maintain their grip.
There have been almost 6 million horse rides over the past 30 years and only 3 deaths and two REPORTED injuries… That means the chances of a horse getting killed is one-in-two-million! MY chances of ceasing to live is much higher than theirs just living in a NYC apartment. (Later I did my research and found that there have been 3 deaths, 1 injury that over time lead to euthanasia, and that there is a whole anti-carriage site dedicated to incident reports that claims about 4 incidents a year occur where a horse spooks and runs into traffic.)
At this point I’m being coaxed to go visit a pony. I realize this is whole floor of stalls. A white horse catches my eye and Gina and I visit him. He seems playful and curious. Gina points out that he flinch or shy away – no ribs are showing, he isn’t limping, his fur is evenly coated and not matted, his mane is brushed or just naturally fabulous and his teeth seem to be fully intact…. as he keeps trying to eat my shirt. We both agree that save for the fact that he isn’t rolling in the grass, this is not a pony that is in dire peril.
I ask about their stall conditions as I pass by them and inspect them carefully. They all seem well stocked with hay in the feeders and fresh straw on the floor if there was a horse in them. The rest were empty. Christina tells me that every stall is cleaned and stocked daily morning and night… I believe it based on the conditions I saw. It didn’t seem cramped at all… I could easy pay $2,500 for a space like that and have a better deal than the average New Yorker…and while the air did smell a bit like manure it wasn’t stuffy. There weren’t a lot of windows, which I wasn’t too excited about. As someone who likes
anthropomorphism, if I were a pony I’d want to stare out a window and daydream about sexy pony things. Like lady ponies and stuff. But it seemed that not all the horses had this opportunity. However, when I addressed this, I was told that the horses get a lot of time outside and that they are accustomed to down time in their “apartments” windows or not- it’s fine with good ventilation.
I ask about how long horses spend in a stall, and I am told usually only a day or two at a time – but that its up to the individual driver. Gina expresses concern that the horse can’t run around in the stall or frolic. This is answered with the fact that horses have been seen rolling themselves in their stalls for chiropractic needs and trotting in circles. I would need to see this for myself. However, I can tell at least that these aren’t overly tight quarters for the horses. At least they can lay down, turn around, and stand in any direction.
|About the size of a NYC studio may be good for me… but is it good for the much bigger horses? It depends on how long they are held there for in my opinion. Im 6’2.|
As I pause at a stall and peer in I realize the water bowl seems very tiny. The protesters claimed that the horses weren’t given enough water and were often dehydrated. They said that the horses were subject to stale buckets that fermented in the sunlight and often had their own excrement in it. I ask about the tiny water bowl.
Christina explains that it’s an unlimited watering bowl. There is a little nozzle that when the horse pushes it with their nose, it fills up the bowl with clean clear fresh flowing water which means the horse can drink all they want whenever they want to. I can not believe this. It’s like Olive Garden. Unlimited. Refills. But wait there has to be a catch – is it clean? I am assured by everyone there that it’s city water, good enough for any human to drink. So I do the only thing I know how to – to prove that that’s truth…. I demand to be able to drink some.
Everyone stares at me in disgust. Gina shakes her head like… “HELLLL NAHHHHH”….. But I insist. If someone is going to CLAIM that the water is perfectly fine for humans… than it BETTER be perfectly fine for humans. Christina reluctantly walks me over to a watering bowl in a random empty stall and smiles as I cup a hand under the nozzle. The bucket has a bit of hay algae in it- but the red nozzle seems clean. The water was cold, and tasted kinda tinny. I waited for a stomach turn, a headache, blindness, vomiting, worms, bubonic plague… Anything. But nothing happened. I waited to see if my most certain death might happen on the rest of the tour.
Until then… I had a pressing question. Where does all the poop go? Seriously.
Christina lead me to a large room on the top floor… Barrels and barrels stacked upon barrels of manure were piled in the room. There was a big window that opened French style on the opposite wall. I wasn’t sure how I felt about so much fecal matter being stored in the same building on the same floor that housed the horses…. I mean maybe horses aren’t a yellow-let-it-mellow kinda species. Plus what about the gasses built up by the storage of manure… Couldn’t the methane cause fire conducive conditions in a building with so much aged wood? Who checks this stuff anyways? Is there a poop room inspector?
Christina assures me that the manure is taken once every three days out the French window and given to the Amish for compost. So it doesn’t build up or get wasted. No pun intended.
For our final stop, we left the manure room and did a photoshoot with one of the horses. He is large and powerful standing next to me… And despite my best attempts to snuggle with his sweet baby brown eyed face… He seems distracted. A couple flashes happen from the photographer, but I can tell this photoshoot isn’t going to last long. Then suddenly, the horse veers to the right and lunges for the stall next to me. I follow him instinctively and he puts his butt in my face, flicking his tail at me defensively. I try to look around him, and Christina goes to lead him back to the photo shoot area… That’s when I realized he is sucking away on a salt lick. Apparently, there is a semi communal couple of salt licks with minerals in them that are passed around as treats for horses… And this pony found one. Gina and I insisted that he be left to nibble away as we made small talk… He seemed pretty happy about it and Christina was happy to oblige. The photoshoot was over instantly.
With the tour complete we settled down in the stable managers office for any final questions and I had a couple burning in my mind. Christina cracks open a Coke. Intense eye contact ensues. Silence. I feel ready to grill her.
“So…. How many days a week do the horses work?”
“4-6 days… Depending on the driver. It all varies.”
This is different from the 3 day-a-week claim I got from the driver on the night of the protesters. 6 days seems like a lot….
“Isn’t that a lot of manual labor… ?” I ask
“No – horses like to work, they prefer it actually. And the carriages are easy to pull, even a person can do it. It’s not hard on them at all.”
I make a resolution to pull a carriage before I write this blog to verify this claim. I also make a note to self that unless horses speak English, we can’t really 100% verify that horses like to work. I mean they may express what we believe is joy, but until that language barrier is broken- an animal rights activist can not tell if a horse is sad or just relaxed any more than a driver can tell if a horse loves its work is simply doing it out of routine and resolve. Anthropomorphism on either side is not legitimate assessment of actuality.
“What percentage of the drivers income goes into the horses care and provisions? Like you for example… About how much do you make and how much do you spend?”
Christina laughs and says that’s a personal question she would rather not answer. I can tell she’s a bit uncomfortable with it, and I try to reword.
“What I’m getting at here is – do you spend 50% of your earnings on your horse’s care? Or… Less? You and several other drivers say its a partnership and that you work together equally… So wouldn’t that mean equal split of delegation of funds? You spend 50% on your horses and 50% goes to you?”
“Well, the drivers need money to pay for food, rent, and family stuff so – the amount they need to do that is different for every horse. However, no one neglects their horses… Everyone has a personal policy to put their horse first and all the horses in this stable are definitely well taken care of. It’s very expensive to own a horse, so if you count the stable rent and the carriage equipment – likely it’s very close to an even split.”
She sipped her Coke.
I scratch my nose.
“Soooo…. Do they get time off? I heard they get vacation?”
“Yes they do- they get a mandated 5 weeks off and are sent to Amish farms for rest. That’s five weeks in a row… Not broken up. However, most drivers have more than one horse, so a lot of them are out there for extra time.”
“But don’t they need more than five weeks of fresh grass and freedom? I mean, they don’t get a lot of movement in those harnesses-“
“they can move just fine in their harness.” The Coke machine hums in the background.
“What I mean is, they don’t seem to have a lot of freedom to run around and have fun. I mean when they aren’t hooked to a carriage they are in a stall… which isnt a lot of space to RUN. And it doesnt seem like they get a lot of physical connection to other horses. Don’t horses like to snuggle?”
“People dont realize how easily horses get hurt when they have too much freedom to run around… especially with other horses. They can break their legs, and when penned with each other since they are herd animals, they will bite and kick each other. They are actually much safer and happier the way we do it… and trust me… they do a ton of socializing on the job with each other, and talk in the stables as well as while standing with each other.”
This was not easy to hear. I’d rather know that the horses could run freely at the end of the day… Wind blowing in their pony manes and dirt beneath their feet. Get their horse jitters out. And it’s not like I’ve read a common Wikipedia article about how the average rancher or hiker comes upon swaths of wild or domestic horses all flailing on their sides with broken legs from having run free. However… just like any animal or person that doesn’t get a ton of something… I suppose that when carriage horses are exposed to unlimited freedom at the end of a limited day – they might be overzealous and COULD injure their legs. In this society… A horse that badly injures a single leg is likely euthanized. Imagine if we did that with people… Tiny Tim wouldn’t have been in A Christmas Carol! I researched health needs of horses later on and technically all horses run… But they don’t NEED to run to survive. Just like Americans. Clearly. Is it healthier for them to be able do so? Likely. Will they die if they don’t and certainly live boring miserable existences? No. Do I feel comfortable sleeping at night knowing that they don’t have access to a field to run in after work? Not really…
I take a breath. Gina pats my shoulder because I’m clearly not happy with this response.
Christina smiles at me under her top hat.
Gina took over for a moment, “So what about having a space for the horses in Central Park or a piece of land the drivers buy into?”
“The park was ACTUALLY built FOR the horses- so it WOULD be nice to have a space in there for them. But it’s not likely to happen anytime soon – it would take a lot of money, city official oversight, and headache. I’d love to be able to walk my horse out – it’s just not going to happen though. That’s why she goes on vacation.”
I had one more question speaking of vacation. Something truly terrifying that the protesters had said that stuck with me.
That the horses were disappearing randomly. They would just one day get too old to work or not be useful anymore and then suddenly disappear with no documentation of what happened to them. That they were just sent to slaughter houses the second they weren’t efficient anymore. Just like every alien movie or horror abduction story.
“What happens to the horses when they are too old to work, or if they are too lame to work, or if they don’t want to work?”
Christina gets a big proud grin on her face and jumps eagerly into telling me about a horse sanctuary called Blue Star that she helped start herself. It’s a large ranch where horses retire to greener pastures and free frolicking. It sounded pretty awesome. Until I visit it personally, I won’t know if it truly is, it the photos and reviews seem really solidly supportive of the citrus she painted in my head…. I’d have to see for myself.
(SEE THEIR SITE HERE: http://www.equiculture.org/ )
I ask if the horses are euthanized at their retirement and sold to meat packers and she laughs that this never happens. The drivers love their horses too much and that when a horse retires, drivers are in a sense retiring a pet or a coworker… And care deeply about the final years of that creature.
I keep an open mind that every driver has individual rights though and that they are not required to retire a horse to any specific sanctuary or place. So TECHNICALLY the room for a horse to retire to slaughter IS possible. Likely though…. Not from what I have observed.
That Coke is making me thirsty… And I’m so engrossed in this conversation that I realize I actually am running late to my runway show. I abruptly ended the discussion and left. Christina thanked me for coming and was actually so concerned about me getting to my show on time that she paid for a cab to get me there.
In the cab I realize there are still quite a few unanswered questions. Gina and I went back and forth on the topic trying to wrap our minds around our experience. We both agreed that while I had hoped for my visit to the stable to be enough to come up a basic conclusion over the controversial carriage industry… it wasn’t. I needed to pull a carriage, find out about how much the city government was involved, and experience the working conditions as well as the living conditions of the stables.
So the next week when the glitter and high heels cooled down a bit from fashion week, I returned to the stables to meet with someone a little more knowledgable… The stable manager. Connor.
Who is also a driver.
Upon returning it was a flurry of commotion as most drivers were walking their horses out of the barn to head to work. Nina the photographer and Sally the videographer were there again to document. I briefly shook hands with a warm smiley man who looked like he just stepped out of a British themed Disney movie. He was busy and unable to talk for about ten minutes BUT he WAS the stable manager and the one I came to see…. So it was worth waiting for him.
As I made small talk with my big voice and awkwardly over expressive body, another driver offered to let me attempt my aspirations of pulling a horse carriage. He gestured to one of his own carts and I got in position.
To be honest if felt a little nerve wracking. I felt like perhaps I should’ve done more pushups or something…. All of this was being documented and if I couldn’t pull this thing I’m not sure if it would truly be a reflection on the weight of the cart or my potential love life capabilities. The driver hopped up in the drivers seat to give it accurate weight. Oh boy.
I pulled forward and it was a little heavy to start, I really had to lean into it. But once it got rolling it was actually not that resistant or heavy. I even turned the cart on my own. I thought about the way the harnesses are constructed and I know from previously owning horses and cart pulling animals that physics says the animals are PUSHING not pulling the cart. I know that may not seem like it makes a difference but it does… The point of pressure spreads across their chest and down their sides … Meaning that the back and legs do not experience most of the strain. These are the places on a horse most susceptible to injury.
Once he was ready the stable manager offered me the opportunity to see what the travel conditions were like from the stable to Central Park… The daily routine for horses and their drivers. Since the activists complained that horses were subject to heavy traffic and constantly spook and run out into cars to face their excruciatingly publicly painful deaths – I was really grateful to have the opportunity to see this first hand.
As we took off I decided to use this time to ask some questions and observe.
“Is the grain organic?”
“Likely yes, it comes from an Amish farm. We worked hard to find the best quality for our horses.”
“Are there sanitation standards for the barn? As in does someone inspect it and regulate it same as they might a restaurant or apartment complex? I’m really concerned about food handling safety, the mucking process, and having a general eye on the welfare of the horses.”
He turned around briefly and looked at me. “We have some signs up in the stables for basic rules, but every driver has to pass a test to get their license… SO they really need to know how to care for their horses and their environments. But just this past year alone we had an inspector visit close to 200 times.”
I was surprised. That’s a lot of visits… “Inspector of what? What do they look at? What’s their name? Can I ask them how many times they visited? Is there public record of that?”
“The inspector is from the city and checks everything from basic safety codes to the food sanitation etc. there are over 2,000 regulations and laws pertaining to carriage horses so he is constantly involved with making sure we are doing our jobs right. And if you ask me personally… 200 visits in one year is several more than you’ll ever see someone give any restaurant or even hospital.”
I resolve that I would look up the inspector and cross reference that statement just to make sure it was true. 200 is a lot. (Later it takes me three danged days but I am finally able to contact city officials and confirm that on average there are 2-3 visits per week to the midtown stables from the city.)
I looked around me, there sure were a good number of cars… But the horse is very confident and calm. They look forward seemingly not even needing the driver at all to tell them where they are going. They know. Cars do not honk at us on OUR ride. The horse does not appear jumpy, afraid, or on edge from what I can tell with my perspective.
One thing I note about the trip from the barn to Central Park is that there are no signs marking the fact that horses are a part of the traffic flow. Just like signal lights, this seems like a necessary precaution… Anything helps really. Even BIKES have traffic signs. I bring this up to the stable manager and he tells me that the city put up one horse crossing sign…. In the park. High in the air. And I’m able to verify that in our arrival by spotting the little yellow square in the distance. He says he has advocated for crossing signs many times.
In my personal opinion, I’m kind of a mom mentality when it comes to safety. I used to be a firefighter so prevention and smokey bear is always on my mind. I really believe that there should be JUST ONE route from the barns to the Central Park area and it should DEFINITELY have AT LEAST signs that say HORSES CROSSING or WALKING or FROLICKING WITH WAGONS. If not for the sake of the horses then for the safety of the people in cars. If the area were marked, it might become safer. Most drivers I’ve talked to have suggested even a special lane dedicated to horses for specific hours of the day… Just two hours morning and two hours evening. This may be extreme to get, but it’s encouraging to know that the safety of the horses is considered by the drivers when it comes to traffic.
When we get to Central Park, Connor parks the carriage in a short line of other carriages. The horses stand there nonchalantly. I use this time to ask more questions.
“Why wont they put signs up?”
Connor gets comfortable and turns back to face me. I move closer to him so I can hear him better. “The mayor isn’t in support of the carriages and actually has talked about potentially banning them… So it would be a dream to think he’d even provide funding for traffic signing. He hasn’t even ever visited the stables once, and we have invited him several times.”
I personally can understand a mayor not prioritizing horse barn visiting over basic citizen needs… but if he is going to ban something that could put a ton of his citizens out of work…I personally believe he should do it from an educated perspective. In order to be educated, you have to go see and understand what you are working with, then process it.
“What happens if the horse carriages are banned?”
The stable managers eyes narrow a bit. “Well there are hundreds of drivers who would not be ale to feed their families and would be out of work and-“
“Screw the drivers…. I mean from a joking sense… I’m coming at this from a YOU’RE HUMAN YOU WILL BE FINE… ULTIMATELY THESE ARE HORSES SUBJECT TO YOUR WHIMS kinda activist perspective because I want to answer their questions in an integrous way. So hypothtetically… Screw the drivers- what happens to the horses?”
“Well, they are all owned independently so it depends on what the drivers could do with them. They are expensive so likely most would sell their horses to Amish farms or ranches.”
“That’s likely what they would be used for, yes.”
“Are Amish farms regulated in the way they maintain their horses? As in barn standards, work standards, health standards?”
“No they aren’t… And they work their horses a lot harder than we do. So do the ranchers. Those horses don’t have anyone walking in making sure that the horses are fed proper, their water is clean. Their stalls are mucked, and that they are getting vacation time. Abuse, mistreatment, neglect on all levels can exist… Even on financially depraved horse sanctuaries that don’t intend for it to exist simply because they aren’t regulated by officials. In fact I think you’ll find that we are one of, if not THE ONLY regulated horse industry in the world by city officials. We are definitely the ONLY working horse industry in the world that has a city mandated 5 week vacation enforcement and an inspector that visits constantly. We even have rules like we can’t work our horses if the temperature is 90 degrees or above. I mean we are held to higher basic standards for life quality and social treatment than anywhere else.”
Connor is quite fluffed in the passions of his speech and he catches himself. I catch myself…. For a moment I was beginning to get inspired and nod along with him. But I needed to remain focused. I needed to do my own research later to determine if they truly were better regulated than other industries and farms in the world.
I thought about the beginning of this particular subject though… Which was the selling of horses back to Amish farms and ranches. Would a life of plowing, log skidding, and buggy transporting in all temperatures be easier and safer than a life in NYC pulling a cart? Would their living conditions be better? They’d still get Amish oats sooooo that would seemingly be the same. But would the barns be monitored and the water be limitless? I guess it would be up to the individual owner, but it seems likely it would not be on the same par.
“How many carriage horses are in NYC?”
“About 500 are owned… Some are always on vacation and rotated though.”
“If the city shut the stables down…. Would any of the horses be euthanized?”
He sighs “Hopefully not, but that’s a lot of horses to find a home for. If a driver can’t find a home in time, that may be something that happened.”
“Where are the horses purchased from?” I’m on a bullet point list at this point, and I know the stable manager is losing work because he’s choosing to talk to me instead.
“Amish farms and some private markets but predominantly the New Holland market.”
“Are they a trained horse kinda market? Like for race horse and special horses?”
He shakes his head. “No actually most of the horses at New Holland are sold to slaughter houses. About 90% of them actually. Very few people actually purchase a horse to own for work because of technology and few people have horses for FUN so horses are mostly used for products like meat and chemicals.”
Oh. I’m not even sure what to say to this. (Later I called auction representatives who claim that only 80% are sold for meat purposes, but that the slaughter horses are often given humane deaths very shortly after being purchased and that they would never support a slaughter company that treated animals unethically. They do support slaughter because they believe horses are the same as cows, chickens, and pigs. I don’t think death is humane.)
“So these horses are kind of like rescue horses… Most of them?”
He nods. “yeah you could put it that way. It’s either this, death, farm labor, or racetracks really.”
“Well… I personally believe that any utilization of another being human or ot… For the profit of another being- without freedom of choice or consent is slavery in a way. So I mean, making these horses work for your profit is kinda like a form of slavery. It’s better than death but it’s not fair if they can’t choose to work right?”
He chuckles “Oh they choose to work! We test horses after carefully selecting them and if they show us that they are uncomfortable at all with NYC or that they don’t want to pull a carriage we aren’t going to whip them or risk our lives gambling they won’t run from a honking taxicab. We will retire them out if we can, trade them with an Amish farm, or work on them in a rural area.”
I hardly think that constitutes as choosing whether a horse wants to work or not, but I really do think it sounded appealing that they at least did not force horses to work that are less apt to adapt. I would need to see an example of this type of process happening though to verify that it does happen.
“How many rides a day do you give approximately and how long do they last?” This was a key question to be asked… it would tell me how much they worked- and how much they stood around.
“It depends on the time of the year. February is dead – so maybe three rides a day in an 8 hour shift. Christmas and key points during tourist season you may be busy, so you will give about 2 rides an hour, maybe three if you are luck. Every ride is 15-20 minutes long from the moment someone boards to the moment they pay and leave. A horse typically spend 1/3 of his shift standing and resting between rides.”
I had one final question for him. “Food, water, shelter…. Do they get them on the work site? I don’t see a hose….”
We step off the cart, and he shows me two swinging buckets under the cart. They are filled with grain. The horses in front of us are munching out of grain buckets. Pigeons ARE definitely sharing in on the action- but the horses seem capable of shooing them away. He then points out a water fountain at the beginning and end of the Central Park circle. I inspect them and see a small film of algae but nothing worse… It’s circulating clean water. I drink some. Awkward.
I check in with every driver in line to see that they have food with them and to see the state of their horses. They seem in healthy condition… Not visibly scarred or gimpy or mucusy in the eyes. Every single driver in line had a bag of carrots on them too. Which seemed pretty liberally handed out. I ask to check how tight the straps and harness gear is on all the horses, Im allowed to do this. I don’t see any cuts, scars, or tensions where the straps lie. I DO see some horses have streaks where there is no fur because its been rubbed off… but the skin showing is not raw or even irritated, its just bald like a 50 year old man.
I left an open mind that it might not always be like this every day and perhaps what I was seeing was a fluke. Maybe there are days that are good and days that are bad. However, if this WAS the daily…. It was definitely not critically abusive in nature… As in these horses weren’t about to die from face punches and whipcracks dehydration or exhaustion. If anything they might just get fat!
After standing around, taking some photos, and socializing with a few other drivers- I decide to wrap it up for the day and head home to really think about the things that had been said. I had desperately prayed that the answer would be easy and clear so as to avoid carpal tunnel…. but I knew that the blog I was going to write was going to be massively long. There are hundreds of factors to really consider when it comes to deciding if the horses were taken care of or being abusively exploited for money.
AT HOME WITH PETA
So after putting the two trips together, and spending hours upon hours researching, asking animal rights activists through social media, meeting with members of animal rights organizations such as PETA, ARF, NYCLASS and meditating— this is what I have come to.
Realistically, we live in a world where humans have caused a massive amount of environmental destruction. Opportunities for ALL wild creatures to live freely in their known habitats while having access to adequate resources necessary for survival are becoming fewer and fewer. Whole species are being wiped from the face of this planet, or are drastically declining in numbers after suffering disease, starvation, dehydration, and more. The world as we once saw it- that Garden of Eden- is slipping…. if not – gone on many parts of this planet.
After having this experience and reviewing the basic questions above – I realize that the horses DO have more than adequate basic food, water, and decent shelter conditions. They have required medical care, dental care, and work conditions mandated by law and a tight knit community.
At this point if we ban the horse carriage industry in NYC, what does that mean for the horses? Where do they go? Who takes them? If a sanctuary takes them all in… that’s space being taken up that could be used for animals that are perfectly healthy but instead, literally, being sent to a slaughter house right now. This is a really difficult topic that is still new to us as a society…. we are still figuring out animal rights and how to protect animals while still destroying their environments, eating at the rate we do, and consuming at the rate we do. Our solutions as to how to incorporate these amazing creatures into our increasingly human populated world are going to shift and change. And the animals that will survive this damage we are causing- will survive because of funding, luck, and awareness.
Is there funding for horse rescue? Apparently not even enough to maintain funding for sanctuaries already in place… never mind new ones. How many people own horses for fun? Not many – because it’s expensive. Is it fair to kill something just because you don’t have room or a use for it- after having brought it into this world in the first place? Not in my opinion.
Look I know it’s controversial for me to say this and it’s not easy to say this because I personally would rather just see all animals living their lives freely by choice and frolicking playing and eating until they get fat and die of old age. HOWEVER this isn’t currently possible for these horses. I DON’T know what the rest of the world’s carriage industry is like… it could be terrible in London and Paris and Dubai. But NYC has SO many regulations and laws on this particular industry pertaining to the direct care of the horses that are made by people who are demanding basic HUMAN rights for equines. Which means that the 5 weeks of vacation, the working temp conditions, the sick leave and required checkups, housing unit is city approved… these things are things not given to other animals of any species almost anywhere on the globe. These are HUMAN conditions given to HORSES.
In my opinion (from my limited educational standpoint on what I feel is right)- these working conditions are better than a slaughter house. They are better than plowing fields on an Amish farm under a whip. And they are better than some private ownerships where they are neglected in a field all day and yes do nothing- but are not maintained or loved. So for that reason, until a BETTER standard of living can be provided for ALL horses— STARTING with the ones in DIRE need first— I PERSONALLY see NYC carriages as not only an ok industry for horses… but perhaps an example of one step further towards equality of rights between animals and people. If all creatures had their rights regulated as much as NYC carriage horses did… there would be a lot less neglect in my opinion.
Questioning will never end!
Until then – my education on this issue will continue to be inspired by my experiences. If you have an opinion, information, or insight – please share it. I am open and welcome to change my mind towards truth when truth is presented. So if any one should feel I am missing ANY information – I would love love love to know about it.
PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR OPINIONS!