“When hansom cabs are mixed with cars, taxis, buses, pedestrians, bikes and emergency vehicles – fire trucks, ambulances and police cars – they are a recipe for disaster. Over the years, there have been many accidents where both horses and people have been seriously injured and some in which horses have died.”
— Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
For more than a decade ago the carriage horse industry experienced a downturn in popularity in major European cities. Some went so far as to ban it.
The reasons vary, but the most common are:
1. horses spending hours breathing in heavy exhaust fumes,
2. risk of serious injury or death in a traffic accident,
3. poor or inadequate stabling,
4. little care to no veterinary care,
5. poor hoof care,
6. a life of drudgery, boredom and overwork,
7. forced to endure extreme outdoor temperatures and weather conditions, and
8. given little to no water when they are working so they will not urinate while on duty.
City officials became convinced, because of a steady stream of complaints from concerned citizens and tourists, that the lives of carriage horses were indeed abysmal, and they could not improve their lives no matter how much they tried to regulate it.
Yet, a few years ago horse drawn carriages began reappearing but with a few changes.
Most cities in the US have only minimal or non existent regulations concerning the working conditions for carriage horses. What regulations do exist are rarely if ever enforced.
A major concern, no matter where carriage horses work is this: horses and heavy traffic can be a deadly mix.
Despite carriage operators’ claims, most horses are not comfortable working in the noise, bustle and congestion of city traffic.
Horses are flight animals. Spooked carriage horses bolt, drag and even break free from their carriages, causing chaos, property damage, injuries and death to the horses.
Since we first published a report on common abuses in the carriage horse industry, we have received numerous responses from a wide spectrum of people in and outside the US.
The public call or write to complain about what they see as a life of improper handling and abuse of carriage horses. Animal rights’ organizations call for an all out ban.
Horse drawn carriage operators state that some of these complaints may have been the case in the past, but it is not the case now, particularly in New York City where it is a hotly contested issue and most of the feedback comes from.
Current Mayor Bill deBlasio was elected partly on his promise to ban New York City carriage horses. He has yet to full that promise.
In the meantime, the debate rages on. It is a complicated issue but always seems to be more about local politics than the welfare of the horses.
In European cities where horse drawn carriages operate, we discovered several encouraging trends:
1. Carriages pulled by a team of two horses instead of one. This has a calming effect on the horses and distributes the workload (this has caught on in some US cities as well).
2. Horses employed pulling carriages are required to wear horse “sneakers,” or protective rubber coverings over their hooves. This protects their feet and cushions the impact of their hooves on the concrete and cobbles of city streets.
3. There also appears to be a higher standard of required care and monitoring via regular veterinarian inspections and unannounced “spot checks.”
These are well thought out actions. The issues most important to us no matter where carriage horses work are:
1. Temperatures and weather conditions horses are forced to work in.
2. Ample water available at all times.
3. The hours the horses are made to work.
4. Amount of noise and traffic congestion they are made to work in.
5. Type of stabling the horses are made to live in and how often they are turned out so they can live naturally for at least part of the time.
6. Routine hoof, dental and health care including regular check ups― not just when the horses appear injured or are having trouble working.
7. Types and sizes of horses used, particularly in relation to the size and weight of the carriages and number of people carried.
8. Appropriate level of driving skills for the safe handling of horses particularly in noisy, volatile, congested conditions.
The Bottom Line
Even with these provisions, the fact remains. It is not safe to operate horse drawn carriages in urban settings along with heavy traffic. To do so exposes carriage horses to hazardous conditions resulting in injuries and even death.