Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carriage Horse Welfare, Part 2

As usual, my impressions of the carriage horse industry in NYC have raised some ire. First, I would like to thank my readers for pointing out (calmly and entirely without vituperation) that all NYC carriage stables do indeed have sprinkler systems in place. I have corrected my previous post to reflect that assessment. It is good to know that these basic safety issues are attended to without exception.

As for the various other issues concerning the welfare of carriage horses in NYC, that I have witnessed first hand, I stand by my opinions. I do not, and will not ever, consider it safe or humane to have horses trotting on hard pavement behind moving cars. In the comments I received to my previous post, there was also argument that living for long periods in tie stalls is acceptable (I disagree, and have said so before on a post regarding NYC riding stables), and that horses are safer in a burning building in NYC, where they might have to negotiate two or more floors and then egress out onto a busy street, than in one out in suburbia where they are on the ground floor and nearer to safe, immediate exits (again, I disagree).

In addition, the fact that all carriage stables in NYC were originally built to house horses is a comforting thought until one realizes that many were built in the 19th century, long before current standards for light, space, and ventilation were even considered. Back when horses were very much livelihood, and not considered to be nearly so worthy of human advocacy as we view them today. Their stables' historic origins could in fact be viewed as even greater proof that horses living in NYC are an anachronistic holdover from a much earlier period.

Even this video, filmed by the NY Times, (and this one left by a commenter to my previous post) does not do much to assuage my impression that even the best of the carriage houses can be dusty, dimly lit, cramped, and dilapidated. Draft horses are living in small box stalls, very clean yes, but nonetheless quite urban-sized accommodations for such large, free-ranging, rural creatures. These compressions of space provide the basic requirements for horse subsistence but not too much else, and this comes as no surprise considering the difficulty with which ample space is to be found for just about anything in NYC. I do not agree with this type of environment as housing for carriage horses any more than I agree with it in the cases of other NYC stables such as Kensington, and the now defunct Claremont, that also house(d) their equines in tight, dusty quarters to make the best use possible of the small spaces they are granted. We learn more about the physical, psychological, and social needs of our equine charges every year, and housing them in NYC does not, in my very humble opinion, meet the living requirements of a species that evolved to inhabit expansive open stretches of land. Even if we make sure these urban horses have 5 whole weeks of access to open land every year, "suburban" horses often have their basic needs for free range and forage much more amply met.

(On a related note, the scene in the video in which the owner of the carriage company grabs his horse's mouth and backs its carriage nearly into the path of an oncoming truck, does not, likewise, do much to change my impression about the difficulties of combining unpredictable prey animals with the crowded, unsettling world of NYC.)

If my observations are entirely unfounded, then the carriage industry is facing, at the very least, a serious problem with PR. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for those who advocate to maintain the industry to spend more time promoting its benefits and introducing the public to ways in which it is committed to horse health and safety. I regret that my opinion offends those who do labor to make the carriage industry in this city as safe as it can be, and those who make their living working in it, but I am only concerned with seeing all horses in this city remain healthy and happy. And I assume that is a cause that all of us, "propagandists" or no, can stand behind. It will only be so, however, if we remain open and conversational, instead of attacking those opinions we don't deem appropriate.


Maia Settle said...

I find it interesting that you think urban horses, which have constant care and attention lead a less bucolic life than 'suburban' horses. You do realize that many horses in pastures cannot 'forage' their daily supply of nutrients in the poor grasses, that many are neglected to the 'free range' with teeth unfloated, hooves cracked or rotten, and infected wounds from their status shuffling attacks on each other? Carriage horses do have it better than many other horses in America - especially now.

Corinne Mehas said...

Thanks for your comment Maia.
As with every situation involving our equine companions, there are some doing quite well, and some doing badly. I work with an organization that retires racehorses that have often been injured to the point that the only future they possess is as pasture pets. So yes, you are right, there are many suburban and rural horses who live less than idyllic lives. My point was that, on the whole, a horse that is at least as well kempt as those carriage horses to which you refer, but which also has access to regular turnout or free range on pasture, is likely to be more comfortable, healthier, and mentally relaxed. Again, exceptions always exist, but it is a horse's nature to roam, and though we humans can provide feed, grooming, shelter, and perhaps even the constant attention to which you allude, we cannot provide the socialization, or relaxation, that a horse attends to himself, more often than not, when turned out with herd mates. I am not suggesting that horses that aren't receiving the appropriate level of subsistence are doing better, simply by virtue of access to turnout, than those who do receive it but must be kept stalled. But all things being equal, and as has been documented and studied via many different avenues, horses need the room to be horses.