Improving Carriage Horse Welfare
This past week, I spent a few days in New York City for the first time. It was a place I’ve long wanted to visit, and it definitely lived up to my expectations. Of course, one of the many things I was curious to see were the carriage horses who work in and around Central Park.
These horses have been the center of controversy in recent years, and though I’ve read some of the horror stories, I wanted to see the state of their welfare for myself.
Granted, I only spent a few hours in Central Park and saw maybe ten different horses, here are my thoughts about what I saw.
I’m an animal lover (which is probably obvious!) and would love to see all animals cared for and treated in a certain way. But I also know that not everyone has the same views about horses as I do. Not all that long ago, horses were not viewed as pets (or family members!), but as a mode of transportation or a necessity for farm work. I get that. And I get that some people still view them in a similar way. They want their horses to work for a living. We have friends who are Amish, and their horses are their sole means of transportation. Horses are a very vital part of their culture.
I don’t believe work is necessarily bad for a horse, but at the same time, we need to realize that they aren’t machines–they aren’t built to do the same thing, day in and day out for a long period of time. It wears on their body. And it likely affects their psychological well being too.
I think it’s okay for horses to pull carriages, so long as the load is appropriate and they aren’t overworked. Are the carriage horses of NYC overworked? I don’t know the answer to that. I didn’t stand out there for hours to watch them, and I didn’t ask the drivers how long they work each day. According to this article, the horses aren’t worked for more than nine hours at a time, and they get several weeks of vacation days every year. The article also states that they aren’t worked when it’s too hot or too cold outside.
From the tiny snapshot I saw, most of the horses looked to be in physically decent shape (not too thin, lame, etc.) I did not see anyone mistreating a horse, or anything else overly alarming.
With that said, however, I do believe their welfare could be improved. Here are my suggestions:
1.) These horses need hay to eat while standing. They aren’t giving carriage rides non-stop. They do quite a bit of standing around it seems. I did not see any of the drivers offering hay to the horses during this time. Carrots, yes, and maybe some grain, but no hay. (again, just stating what I saw.)
But if these horses are out working for the majority of the day with no forage, there is a pretty good chance they have developed ulcers. Judging by the facial expressions of some of them–ears turned back and other signs of pain shown in the face— they are uncomfortable. This could be from a variety of reasons, but having forage to combat ulcers and support more natural eating habits would definitely help.
2.) They need better hoof care. Nearly every horse I saw had long toes. Many had overgrown hooves, in general. All were shod, of course, and all shoes that I saw were metal. I would suggest going barefoot (using the natural trim) and using hoof boots or at least using non-metal shoes. There are several mounted patrols which have shown this can work successfully.
The concussion of walking or standing on cement for long periods of time isn’t ideal for any horse, but the effects are definelty going to be exacerbated by metal shoes. There are shoes made from more flexible materials such as polyurethane, which would be better for horses working on pavement. Here is one example which I believe would be preferable to metal shoes.
3.) I would transition them to bitless bridles. All of the horses I saw had bits in their mouths. I realize that many people use bits and the hands of the rider (or driver in this case) can make all the difference, but working and standing around with a bit in their mouth for hours on end each day isn’t ideal either. These are all very gentle, well-trained horses, and I see no reason why they couldn’t go bitless. This would definitely be more comfortable for them while standing, and they would also be able to eat their hay (if provided) more easily.
I believe these three changes could greatly improve the welfare of the carriage horses. And if I saw these modifications made, I would be much more likely to actually take a ride in a carriage next time I’m in NYC.