The sad lives of carriage horses

I love New York, but one of the things I don’t like about the city that never sleeps is the carriage horse industry.

Many cities, including the one I live in (Seattle) and one I visited this spring (Savannah), offer horse-and-carriage rides. Approximately 1000-2000 horses are used across the country. These hansom cabs, might evoke an old-world feeling but they’re anything but romantic. Carriages belong in the history books.

sad horse

Horses in the carriage industry are often castoffs from the harness racing industry or from Amish communities and come to the city with pre-existing health problems. They develop further health issues from walking on pavement all day and breathing exhaust from trucks, cars and buses. They work all day in freezing cold and scorching heat and they’re stored in warehouses at night.

They’re never sent out to pasture, and have no government protection. Carriage owners are legally allowed to work their horses 9 hours a day, seven days a week–whether horses like it or not.

don't take a ride

The average working life of a carriage horse is only four years. In fact, about a third, or approximately 70, of the New York City carriage horses are eliminated from the Department of Health horse registry every year. When they’re spent, they’re usually auctioned off for slaughter or rendering plants for dog food companies or zoos.

stuck in traffic

The horses suffer and people are endangered too. Horses get spooked easily and can run into traffic. In New York there have been more than 18 accidents involving horses in the past two years. It’s a largely unregulated industry.

It’s a half-hour ride for patrons, but it’s a lifetime of misery for the horses.

Toronto, Paris, London, Las Vegas, Beijing and many other cities have already banned carriage horses. A fun horseless carriage idea is brewing that could replace horses in New York and still be fun and romantic.

In Savannah, I opted to take a pedicab ride. The man peddling told me he enjoys the job and that it’s paying for his college.

pedicabs instead

What to do?

  • Never patronize carriage rides, and tell your family and friends why they shouldn’t. From newlyweds to tourists, it’s the people paying for the rides that keep this industry in business.
  • If your city allows carriages on city streets, urge your legislators to propose legislation that will ban it.

Update (Jan 2, 2014) – New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has vowed to ban horse-drawn carriages in the city and retire the horses to sanctuaries. Money to help the horses is probably still needed and horses in other cities still need help. This promise is great news, and a good way to keep momentum going for the horses.