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Over the Fence: New York’s 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?

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?

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.

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.

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.

Back to Over the Fence

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  • 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,

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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