Over the Fence: New York’s Carriage Horses

NYC Carriage Horses

My family has a long history with carriage horses. My grandfather had a barn full of them. Once he drove his two favorite horses (Percheron work horses, Benny and Betty) all the way from his farm in New Jersey to Pennsylvania, pulling a covered wagon full of kids including my mother. As for me, I drove my first pony cart at about nine years old. I remember the moments vividly, trotting the pony through that small town to the beat of a proud clip clop with the reins in my hands, and taking in pony smell with every breath. What could be more fun?

NYC Carriage Horses

Over the last few years I have followed the headlines about the proposed ban on New York carriage horses from a distance. The disturbing pictures in the news of hot, worn out carriage horses dying on the streets of New York are not pleasant. I was prepared to shun the jerks who allegedly enslave the New York carriage horses then send them to slaughter, but over and over, I wondered, is this the whole story?

NYC Carriage Horses

At first, when I heard about this video narrated by actor Liam Neeson, (as much as I like him as an actor) I thought how arrogant – to suggest that we keep carriage horses in abusive conditions for the sake of a tradition. But after actually watching the video, I was convinced that there is another side to the story. The people seemed nice. The horses seemed well taken care of. There was a lot of love for the horses and happy retirement farms. I wondered about sports like horse racing that occasionally (often?) beat horses to a pulp, dispose of them and then just keep on keeping on.

NYC Carriage Horses

I was in New York this weekend and eagerly made my way up to Central Park to get an eyeful of the carriage horses myself. What I found surprised me. Yes, it was a pleasant 70 degrees out and definitely not hot, but what I saw were draft-crosses at work – more like “ho hum” than unhappy slaves. No sweat, no heavy breathing, no uncomfortable rubs or signs of agitation, just gleaming horses putting one foot in front of the other with bright-colored feathers in their head stalls. With their heads relaxed and stretched forward, they walk a paved circuit touring Central Park, then turn on to busy 59th Street where they either take a break, pick up new passengers or head back to their stable not far away over on the west side.

NYC Carriage Horses

Perhaps my experience would have been different on a hot, sweaty summer day (they do have temperature restrictions, though, like in any sport that involves animals – it’s up to the caretakers to take good care). I do see a few more important reasons against carriage horses in NY here. So for today, while I enjoyed the sound of the clip clop and a whiff of horse hair on the breeze, I will continue to ponder both sides of the fence on this debate.

NYC Carriage Horses
NYC Carriage Horses

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  1. I also have seen the horses first hand on trips to NYC. Aren’t they wonderful? So obviously well cared for. Thanks for looking for yourself,

  2. I’m so glad you went to see for yourself. I did too, from upstate NY. Carriage people are friendly! And the horses are such professionals. So well-cared-for and so engaging. Thanks for your thoughtful article.

  3. So glad you went and saw for yourself! I hope you’ll visit again, and tour the stables, which are clean and well ventilated with misted fans to cool them when it gets too warm – any day the temp is above 89F they loaf in their shady stalls.
    No NYC horse in recent memory has died of any work related condition, and if you contact any of the auction houses that sell horses to killer buyers, they’ll tell you that years go by between seeing a single carriage horse with their distinctive hoof brands. Much as the animal rights activists would have you believe otherwise, the horses live good lives in NYC and are typically retired either privately or to Blue Star Equiculture, their official retirement venue.
    It’s hard to imagine that with all the smoke the anti-horse crowd puts out there really is no fire. I was like you once, thinking there MUST be something to all their claims of abuse. But the hours I’ve spent with them – and I’m not in the business at all – have convinced me otherwise.

  4. Glad you didn’t believe the lies of the Anima RIghts people and took a good look for yourself. I have horses in NJ and have seen the stables “up close and personal” They are clean and the horses are remarkably friendly. Everyone came to their stall front to see what was going on with new people in their barn. Not one horse turned it’s butt to us. If you know horses, you know that speaks volumes for the way they are treated. If you look at the photos on the anti groups pages, notice they are the same few horses, over and over. Notice too, that some of the photos are not even taken in NYC! So much for credibility of those groups. You might also know that PETA, one of the groups pushing to get rid of the carriage horses, kills over 80% of the animals it is entrusted to save. With Friends like that, who needs enemies?

  5. Thank you for realizing that there was more to the story and for taking the time to see for yourself. It’s nice to hear from another horse person what they experienced when visiting the NYC Carriage Horses. Whenever I go to the Dr’s in the city or just up there for a runaway day I always go see the horses and as a horse person with over 50 years experience I have never ever seen anything but calm relaxed horses doing what they enjoy. Even with the radical animal activist during fashion week rushing the horses yelling and screaming waving their signs of all sizes the horses remained calm and took the models for an enjoyable ride even with those people chasing them trying to intentionally cause someone to get hurt. I have a lot of admiration for those horses and the care they receive. They get better benefits and care than the horses in a rural setting. Again thank you and I hope next time you will b able to visit the stables to see the extent of the care they receive.

  6. This whole NYC anti-carriage debate is about real estate. A developer wants the stables housing the carriage horses, and started a campaign against them. I’ve toured the stables and met the horses, and these are about the most well-regulated horses on the planet. Yes, there is an accident every once in a while — three motor-vehicle related fatalities in THIRTY years. These horses have an excellent safety record along with a retirement plan and five weeks mandated vacation annually — although most work one month on in the city and stay one month in the country. Come to the annual Clip Clop celebration and see for yourself.

  7. Keep the carriage horses! I don’t believe is selling out heritage to animal rights activist who only tell one side of the story. Get informed about animals welfare before protesting on just a little bit of information. Glad you are seeing both sides of the story.

  8. I was against the horse carriages for a long time. There were claims being made by anti-carriage groups that I found odd. I’m glad I took a closer look at the issue. I was wrong. These horses are cared for and respected by their owners/drivers, who I have found are some really decent people. Take a look at the testimony of dozens of renowned equine specialists who agree that the horses are right where they belong — in Central Park!

  9. I”m definitely pro carriage horses. As long as they’re well cared for they are happy doing work. Horses are smart and like to keep busy.

  10. As one of those “animal rights” people, I think deBlasio better concentrate on his promise to reform the NYCACC. That system has been notorious for years of killing healthy animals, even many who had adopters and fosters on the way to get the animals out of there. They have had a horrible kill rate for years. In August this year, over 400 dogs and cats were killed. deBlasio moaned about conditions there, trying to get us to believe he was an animal lover, for shelter reform immediately, and the voters of NYC who love all animals were moved to vote for him. Now, if you write, call, e-mail to ask where that shelter reform is…you get no reply. Not even a form letter. My take is, if he knows for sure how bad the shelter system is, then why isn’t he fixing it? The NYCACC is the embarrassment of NYC. IT is what needs fixed. Why are the carriages the issue he’s doing publicity and photo ops on? Because that’s where his big money backers have concentrated on.

  11. To the author: I very much enjoyed your gray area view of the issue. My take: horses have been used as work animals for years, they are an animal that gained their popularity though their amazing ability to train to work in so any ways. In our modern horse keeping society where horses are kept just for pleasure it is nice to see these animals still used for work in a way allows non-horse people to see their worth. That said the right of a carriage owner to work should come at the cost of great care for the horse as it does its job and a early and pleasant retirement for each working horse.

  12. I have been a horse person most of my life, riding primarily, up until two years ago I happened to fall in with the carriage horse crowd. Until then, I did not realize what a fantastic avenue it was. People of all ages love carriages, its a family activity, and its a living tie to our past. Today, many people wouldn’t EVER touch a horse if it wasn’t for carriage rides like in central park. The screaming about how its inhumane for carriage horses in the city, is foolish. These animals are pampered and groomed from nose to tail daily. They love their jobs, and often adore the attention they get from customers. In my honest opinion, taking the joy horses away from the people, especially the children, of New York is inhumane.

  13. Thank you for writing a positive note about the carriage horses. My dear friend works closely with the equine vets that work on them in NYC. There is a lot of misinformation out there. I shared what she told me on my blog – http://www.theequestrianista.com – here is an excerpt about the horses and my view on what their life could be like without having a job that their employer looks after them!
    “Last but not least, Save a horse – take a carriage ride! Friends that I was with for the night, are pro- carriage horses in NYC. After listening to everything that is going on, I want to bring attention to the carriage horses and grow the support for them. There are some radical activists against the horses being in NYC and their cause is growing in the wrong direction. Any horse person could take one look at these carriage horses and tell you, they are being taken care of.
    Did you know: These horses retire by age 14, they are fed top quality custom formulated feed and get great hay? Other facts to know about the carriage horses: There are about 250 horses in 3 stables and all of them are taken care of by one equine vet. Already, what they receive in care is 75% better then most horses I know. If you look at them, they are well fed with good muscle tone, they have glossy coats and when you watch them go, their hooves land evenly from top farrier work. They are restricted in how many hours they can work per day/week and during what temperatures(18*- 90*). These horses were meant to work, most of them are mid-weight draft horses. They pull light carriages and walk on even paved streets at a steady walk 99% of the time. Did you know there was a study done to combat protesters upset that the horses are breathing in toxic exhaust? The results were that the horses breathed in fresher air being in the streets because of the airflow than babies, dogs, and all other pedestrians on the side-walk! How about protesting for cleaner air for pedestrians?
    Instead of protesting, I encourage all to be pro-active and make things better. Where would these horses be if they weren’t in NYC? Most of them were found at auction or in Amish country. They are too big to just hang out in a pasture, they need activity so they don’t founder, etc… No hoof, no horse! Would they be sent to slaughter? Or Plowing a field somewhere? The other options are less ideal than the one they are in. My suggestions is let them be, educate people, and focus your cause on improving conditions for all carriage horses.”

  14. I believe we should just ban the abusive owners. Not all carriage owners are abusive and neglecting proper care of the horse.
    Some horses love this job. Let them continue to enjoy their work as long as they are taken care of properly.
    WE need to start putting our horses back to work for us but love and care for them at the same time. Otherwise what will happen to all our beloved horse friends?
    They are part of this country so let’s show them that we love them and have jobs for them. Let’s take proper care of them.
    I think we need to start using more horse drawn wagons in the country too. We need to start using our horses as transportation again. It’s a win win situation. But abuse should not be allowed at all.


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