Skip to main content

Help the horses: Ban New York carriage rides

By Matt Bershadker
updated 12:20 PM EST, Thu January 23, 2014
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
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
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
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT