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 1:50 PM EDT, Sun September 21, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT