A brown and white carriage horse stands on a New York City street with a yellow taxi in the background.
Animal Rights, Opinions

Pulling carriages isn’t cruel. Pulling them in New York City is.

There are crazy things that happen in New York City.

And then there’s this:

Right after this horse spooked and backed out of the frame, he dumped his rider and was hit by a taxi. One of his legs even got wedged under the taxi, and his

Don’t worry. Billy the horse was fine. He was spotted on the sidewalk not long after, where someone was checking his feet — and resaddling him to be ridden again.

This wasn’t Billy’s first rodeo. He was a carriage horse for years before he started giving rides through Central Park. So he didn’t spook and run away because he was new at his job.

If this can happen to even the most bombproof horse, there probably shouldn’t be horses in NYC at all.

That’s the position of a lot of animal rights groups. But some, like Peta, are looking at the problem all wrong.

This isn’t about whether pulling carriages is cruel. Horses have been pulling carriages, plows and wagons for centuries. They’re bred to do work. Let’s shut down that idea right off the bat.

It’s also not about whether or not Billy or other horses in the city live in bad conditions or are mistreated. Finding one mistreated animal isn’t a reason to shut down a whole industry.

Instead, the argument should be about whether horses belong in a city in the first place.

Walking down the line of carriage drivers and horses lined up at the edge of Central Park, it’s easy to tell they care about their horses. One driver can be overheard telling a mother about what his horse gets to eat every day while her daughter pets the horse on the nose. Another lifts a bucket of grain to his horse’s muzzle.

That’s why so many drivers try to fight the idea that carriage rides are cruel. No one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong and that they should lose their job. Right now, that’s all it seems like carriage protesters do: criticize without creating solutions.

And New York City is making the same mistakes. While running for mayor, Bill de Blasio pledged to end carriage rides in the city and replace them with antique electric car rides, or at least confine carriage rides to Central Park. He got the job, but nothing has happened.

Even this weird new option doesn’t solve the big problem here. Sure, it puts horses farther from city streets. But just like Billy, they can still be spooked by city noises and even run away — Central Park is just a few steps away from the crazy city world.

Horses would still clomp around on hard asphalt roads and pathways. Even though carriage horses have special shoes to prevent slipping, traveling on hard surfaces puts additional shock and impact on horse’s legs.

Likewise, horses still won’t have the grazing time they need. New York City carriage horses get at least five weeks of vacation every year, a law that comes from politicians who don’t understand horses. Five straight weeks of pasture time doesn’t make up for the fact that horses naturally graze around the clock, and that too much stall time leads directly to gastric ulcers.

And while New York City is the biggest culprit when it comes to carriage rides, we can’t forget that they happen in cities everywhere. The whole problem can’t be solved with one law in one city. And it definitely can’t be solved by demonizing an entire industry. The carriage industry isn’t cruel — it’s just not safe.

The ASPCA has had the right position on carriage horses from the start. They don’t have a problem with horses pulling carriages as long as they’re treated humanely, with regulated working conditions. But we need to realize that maybe, those conditions can’t be met in a city.

Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn is the founder and Editor in Chief of Horsey.

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