The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated. - Mahatma Gandhi.
Horse-drawn carriages seem very romantic. Imagine taking a tour of a great city like New York, led by a majestic creature, clip-clopping down 5th Avenue while you and your sweetheart snuggle under a blanket, taking in the fancy Christmas displays while breathing in the crisp, winter air.
Matt and I did this many years ago. It was a sweet idea, but the reality of the experience did not live up to my expectations. I love New York, but the open air of Manhattan is not really something that you want to draw deep into your lungs. It was cold and we were given a blanket, but, there was a gross stain crusted on for life. You know some Taxicab Confessions action probably went down at some point underneath that blanket. And if nothing quite so pervy went on, there were probably germy kids and other weirdos who tainted the cloth with some sort of nastiness. I'm not a germ freak, but it's been proven time and time again that people are disgusting.
The sounds of the city are not really relaxing, either. Unless you like the sound of cabbies cursing at other drivers while car horns blare for no good reason, you're probably not going to feel very peaceful. Another thing that we heard? The sound of our horse peeing at a stop light. For like, 5 minutes. It was distracting because it was so loud and odorous, but mostly, I felt bad that this horse wasn't taking care of business in a grassy meadow somewhere.
While the whole experience is kind of a let-down, horse-drawn carriage rides are not just an unpleasant and overrated activity. These horses are overworked, living with physical pain, and denied a natural existence where they can gallop and interact with other horses. Yesterday, a Manhattan carriage horse collapsed and died right in the middle of the street. There will be a necropsy to determine the cause of death; however, even if this horse died of natural and unavoidable causes, it is really important to understand the miserable reality of life as a carriage horse.
The Committee of the Coalition for New York City Animals has a page on their website listing the top 15 reasons why New York should ban horse-drawn carriages. The list is filled with compelling reasons. Here are some examples that made me feel very sick and sad:
4. The horses live in multi storied stables on the far west side of Manhattan and most stalls are on the 2nd floor. They are fire traps with only one means of egress. Horses reach the upper floors by ramps, which is hard on older arthritic horses.
5. By law, horses are allowed to work 9 hours a day, 7 days a week. Although they are supposed to get a 15 minute break every 2 hours, there is no way to enforce it. They are stuck between the shafts of their carriage and are unable to even scratch an itch. When they are unecumbered by these shackles, horses can back into a tree or fence to relieve an itch.
8. Horses are often seen eating their grain off the street, which is thrown there and can be mixed with dirt and glass. In the winter, only one water trough operates in Central Park and there are no water troughs in Times Square where they work at night until 3:00 AM.
15. For their entire life in this industry, NYC carriage horses do not have the opportunity to perform natural movements or experience normal socialization, so necessary for a herd animal.
Hopefully, the state of New York will eventually ban horse-drawn carriages, but until that happens, please do not support this industry with your hard-earned money. Cruelty-free opportunities abound for romantics in Manhattan. If your loved one is an animal lover like me, s/he may appreciate a donation to a horse rescue, or any other animal sanctuary, where beautiful creatures are given a second chance at life. Here is a video of one such horse, Bobby, a former carriage horse. It is sweet to see him roll in the grass, as he should.