Skip to main content

Help the horses: Ban New York carriage rides

By Matt Bershadker
January 23, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
A horse pulls a carriage down a snow-dusted street in Central Park early in January. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio thinks the horse-drawn carriages should be banned and replaced with antique-style electric cars. A horse pulls a carriage down a snow-dusted street in Central Park early in January. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio thinks the horse-drawn carriages should be banned and replaced with antique-style electric cars.
HIDE CAPTION
Horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Hansom cab horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Horse power in New York
Clip, clop. Slow, winding days for New York's horse drawn carriages
Horse power in New York
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Matt Bershadker: When traditions are unacceptable, we should change them
  • Bershadker: Horses pull hundreds of pounds through bad traffic on streets for nine hours
  • He says: Lost jobs concerns are legit, so we must offer other ways for drivers to make living
  • Bershadker: ASPCA shares position bravely backed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

Editor's note: Matt Bershadker is president and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA.

(CNN) -- Horses have been pulling passenger carriages on New York City streets since 1858, 50 years before the Ford Model T was introduced, and there's no arguing they've been an iconic feature of the city's culture. But as society evolves, so do its standards. When traditions become unacceptable, we don't stick to them simply to keep money coming in. We make new ones.

There is no better example of an obsolete and unacceptable tradition than New York City's horse-drawn carriage rides. In the 21st century, using horses to pull heavy loads of tourists through congested city streets is unnatural, unnecessary and an undeniable strain on the horses. And that strain is not restricted to the streets.

The stables to which these horses return -- former tenement buildings -- do not afford horses a paddock for turnout, the ability to graze or the freedom to roll and run.

That's why, as an organization that's fought for humane treatment of horses since our founding in 1866, we think it's time to end horse-drawn carriage rides, a position firmly and bravely backed by New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio. "We're going to get rid of horse carriages, period," the mayor said two days before taking office.

Matt Bershadker
Matt Bershadker

No counterargument stands up to the sheer absurdity of this antiquated practice, though many who profit from it keep trying.

Opposite view: Keep the beloved New York carriage rides

A carriage driver and industry spokesperson recently told CNN that only "two different sides" are arguing this issue: "the people that know about horses, and people who just look at the horses and give their first impression based on something they read on the Internet."

That statement indicates a deliberate ignorance that serves neither the horses nor the truth.

There are many perspectives on this issue, but because these carriages are profit-driven as well as horse-driven, the paramount question is "What's in the best interest of the horses?"

And is the answer more likely to come from a group dedicated to animal rescue and protection or from horse carriage drivers teaming up with a St. Louis-based PR firm that says it is fighting "radical animal rights extremists" to protect industry?

Are the concerns about lost jobs legitimate? Absolutely.

We share those concerns and encourage new ideas to address them. But using fear over facts and paper-thin arguments to sway this debate is irresponsible.

Here's a sampling of the most ridiculous points suggested by the carriage horse industry and others in the media:

Carriage horses have ample "vacation time."

This may come as news to some, but horses don't understand the idea of workplace benefits. Time off is no defense if the time on is degrading. And another key difference: If you don't like your job, you can quit.

These horses' nine-hour shifts, pulling vehicles weighing hundreds of pounds through bumper-to-bumper traffic on hard pavement, go on without regard to their natural inclinations or overall well-being.

The presence of police horses means the use of carriage horses is appropriate.

Police horses serve a public service. Carriage horses exist for personal profit. That's the difference between necessary and unnecessary. Yes, they're both horses -- just like police officers and ticket scalpers are both humans -- but their roles could not be more different.

It should also be noted that New York Police Department Mounted Unit horses and officers undergo months of specialized training, while New York City carriage horse drivers must simply attend a two-day course and have a valid driver's license.

Horses share our environment: If it's good enough for us, it's good enough for them.

Humans can get off the street, go inside, sit down and generally leave pollutants, noise, potholes and traffic behind. Horses don't have that luxury.

Not only that, but the official training manual for horse-drawn carriage operators cautions drivers that horses are naturally alarmed by -- among other things -- brightly colored traffic lines, manhole covers, potholes, motorcycles, ambulance and police sirens, barking dogs, and noisy crowds.

Sound like any city you know?

The number of carriage horse violations and accidents is insignificant.

The ASPCA has issued more than 230 summonses to carriage operators since 2007. But just one dangerous incident or violation is one too many. In one of many stories of these animals panicking, a mare named Smoothie was spooked and bolted onto the sidewalk where she died of shock in 2007. In December, a carriage horse operator was arrested and charged with animal cruelty for working a horse that was visibly injured.

Incidents such as these shouldn't be tolerated, especially when the practice is so unnecessary. And New York City still needs carriage horses like it still needs subway tokens.

If the practice ends, the horses will be destroyed or abandoned.

We hear this false forecast all too often. Many rescue organizations and shelters are ready and willing to find and open homes to these horses, if their owners allow it. The ASPCA will gladly get involved to help find and facilitate humane options for any horse in need of placement.

But by no means does life as a carriage horse ensure the animal won't eventually be killed for profit. When their useful days are done, they may well be sent to auctions where buyers are often looking for American horses to ship to Canada or Mexico for slaughter and human consumption overseas.

This debate is a conversation New York City needs to have. But it should happen in a context of hard truth, not hyperbolic bias. New Yorkers deserve that. And so do the animals with whom they share the city.

We applaud efforts clearly in motion to take these horses off city streets, pushing both them and New York itself into a more civilized future that should be welcomed, not feared.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Matt Bershadker.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT