Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Do you like your animals? Check this out.

This is a long post, but hang in there.

Raise your hand if you grew up with animals, a pet of any kind.  Did you enjoy it?  You know that feeling when life is getting you down, and you come home at the end of a long day but your (horse, dog, cat, etc) is there to greet you and everything seems okay in the world again?  I do. 

Photo credit: Carriage Horse Cruelty (from FB)
Now raise your hand if you've heard about the controversy over the New York City carriage horses.  No?  To sum it up: there is a group of Radical Animal Rights Activists protesting and making noise in the media about the cruelty that the NYC carriage horses must endure to do their jobs.  These activists would like the world to believe that these draft horses are enduring severe abuse by living and working in NYC.  Apparently "carriage rides make you look heartless".  Well, holding that sign makes you look uneducated.  At least about horses and the issue you are advocating for.  

Wondering why I care about carriage horses? My jumper splits her day between a stall and a field.  She would be appalled at the idea of working for 8 eight hours a day.  She just wouldn't have it.  It takes a special horse to do that job, but they do it happily.

Now I don't have any problem with people taking sides on controversial matters, and I respect people who strongly believe in ideas that I disagree with, so long as they know the facts, have some evidence to go along with their opinion, and aren't speaking simply from stereotypes or prejudices.  I could throw out some examples but I don't want to get off topic.  

So, that being said, do you think that carriage horses should be removed from NYC?  Do you support these radical animal rights activists?  Do you support PETA or the Humane Society of the United States? (You know, those annoying Sarah McLaughlin commercials that make anyone with a soul cry?)  If you have, do you know where your money is going? 

Ok, you say, but I don't drive horses, this whole carriage horse thing doesn't affect me.  Here's the thing, the carriage horses are just the beginning.  They don't want any of us riding our horses.  Or making them work in any way, shape, or form. 

Ok, you say, but I'm not a horse person.  Well don't worry, this affects you too.  These people actually don't want you to have a dog/cat/bird/rabbit etc either.  See where I'm going with this?

Here is what PETA is all about:

"We at PETA very much love the animal companions who share our homes, but we believe that it would have been in the animals' best interests if the institution of "pet keeping"—i.e., breeding animals to be kept and regarded as "pets"—never existed. The international pastime of domesticating animals has created an overpopulation crisis; as a result, millions of unwanted animals are destroyed every year as "surplus."

This selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering, which results from manipulating their breeding, selling or giving them away casually, and depriving them of the opportunity to engage in their natural behavior. They are restricted to human homes, where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink, and even urinate when humans allow them to."

Who has seen the movie Buck (the documentary about Buck Branaman)?  Here's what this incredible horseman has to say on the matter in his book the Faraway Horses

"Next on my schedule were a couple of young women from MTV and Rolling Stone magazine. One of them asked, “What about those poor horses in Central Park? Don’t you think it’s awful how they have to pull those heavy carriages all day?”

I had an answer for that question “No, I don’t,” I said, then explained that the Central Park horses are content. Pulling carriages on rubber-rimmed wheels on paved streets is a low-stress job, and the horses are calm and relaxed, not anxiously laying their ears back or wringing their tails. Plus, these horses get lots of attention and affection from passerby. And horses love attention and affection as much as we do.

The horses that people should be concerned about are the neglected ones that, after the “newness” of ownership wears off, live in box stalls all day. These horses have no purpose, no jobs to do. All they do is eat and make manure. Even prisoners get to exercise more than these horses, and the horses have never done anything wrong. If they had the choice, these horses would choose to be carriage horses rather than stand in their stalls."

Just so we are clear here, this is being defined as abuse, and this is an issue taking the forefront:
Photo Credit: Carriage Horse Cruelty. Caption: Does this look like the picture of a happy horse?
I took the liberty to answer the question on their Facebook page (which was promptly deleted), however, I'll repeat it here.  Yes, that does look like a happy horse.  He is in a more than suitable body weight, his coat has a shine, his feet are trimmed and shod, his tack looks to fit him well, and his expression is content.  I then questioned on the photo (again, deleted) whether those writing these captions know a thing about horses? 

Horses apparently belong on the range, in the wild, and nowhere else.  They should not be pets, companions or athletes.  In the land of rainbows, unicorns and butterflies, all the pretty ponies (and kittens and puppies) would be wild and free! Horses are the backbone of the civilization we live in now. They have been our companions in exploring new lands and meeting new cultures.  They have literally changed the way we see and perceive the world.  The world we ALL live in. 

So while those less educated on what horses are all about may think that being a NYC carriage horse is tough, and all those protesting about all the abuse thats happening everyday, think about this:

This gorgeous horse looks very content in his job, and well cared for
There has NEVER been a carriage horse driver cited for abuse of a carriage horse.

There has NEVER been a citation for mistreatment, cruelty, etc.

Three horses have died in traffic accidents while on duty in over 30 years; seven other horses have died while working in over 30 years. That's 10 horses in over 30 years.  That is a remarkable record. There is no other riding discipline that can come close to that number.

The drivers must present ALL the paperwork upon demand by an ASPCA agent or city inspector. The ASPCA performs, on average, about 180 hackline inspections every year (about once every other day, where they check all paperwork, plus the horses). That's not counting stable inspections and individual horse inspections. And that's not counting inspections by the city inspectors.

The New York City carriage horses are some of the most regulated animals in this country. The fact there has never been a citation for mistreatment or cruelty, even with an awful lot of folks looking for it, speaks volumes. 

San Pedro Sula, Honduras, October 2011 © Kelsey Sullivan
Cruelty exists.  I hope one day I can say that it doesn't, but the world I have come to know is full of injustice.  I have seen it on the streets of Honduras where children of all ages must live and fend for themselves because their families can't feed them.  I've seen it post disaster areas where the government fails to respond with aid, and the world forgets the tragedies once the next day's news goes to press. We see and hear about it in countless places across the globe.  We are inundated daily with choices about whether to do something and act, or to keep living our lives, pushing all those thoughts about the world's unfairness to the side. People, children, are dying for no reason beyond simplistic poverty and its implications, and people are complaining about animals with a job?

Abuse, cruelty, unfairness, injustice. They are all very real things in our world.  But who do we let draw the line on its definition, and who's bottom line to we allow it to serve?  

I suppose part of me wants to just shake some of these people and say "Wake up!"  There are bigger things to worry about in this world than the 200 NYC carriage horses that live comfortably, have a job and know when and where their next meal will be!  There are millions of children (human beings) that don't have that luxury. And that's not limited to the third world, its here.  It's in NYC.  Its in your hometown.  Its all around us.  And if humans fall under the category of animals (and I would argue that we do), all those organizations are failing miserably at regulating the ethical treatment of our species.  Just saying.

Everyone needs something to fight for, their own cause if you will.  Not everyone has one, but many are willing to jump on the bandwagons nonetheless.  Look at the KONY 2012 campaign for example.  Despite the "white man's burden" overtone (too blatant to be considered an undertone) of the film and Invisible Children's questionable uses of money, many people are suddenly big supporters of having Joseph Kony pursued and arrested.  Even Elon's Greek life is making each chapter member write two letters to our state government to create pressure to act. (If you'd like to know more, I suggest checking out Uganda Speaks instead of Invisible Children).  I couldn't resist the meme, sorry!

What I'm saying is, when ideas gain momentum with groups of people who are not necessarily educated on an issue, there is a snowball effect and change may ensue.  However, who's changes are we making?  What are their motives and what will be the final outcome?  For all the horse people out there who agree that having carriages in NYC is cruel, what happens when they come for your discipline?  And when they tell you that your pasture puff living his days out in your backyard should be confiscated and euthanized because captivity is cruel?  Think it could never happen?

Change can be created, and these people want it.  What do YOU want?  Are you willing to defend the animals you love?

Many people often forget that Hitler didn't viciously take power in Germany before WWII, he was voted into power.  He won elections.  People thought he would be a good leader.  This reminds me of the famous quotations from German pastor Martin Niemöller following the Nazi's rise to power:

          First they came for the communists,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

          Then they came for the trade unionists,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

          And then they came for the Jews,
          and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

          And then they came for me
          and there was no one left to speak out for me.

You may not feel that this issue effects you, and it may not now, but what happens when they win, gain momentum, and then come for your animals next? 

I know I'll be taking a ride in a carriage next time I'm in NYC, will you?

Related reading:

 Embattled ASPCA veterinarian resigns over carriage horse death "and that she felt as though she was being used as a tool to make a larger political statement in relation to ASPCA's lobbying efforts to get carriage horses banned."

Why is PETA killing thousands of rescue pets? "What PETA does not publicize, however, it euthanizes -- kills -- some 85% of the animals it rescues."
The HSUS (not official website)  "Only 3.64% of the 107 million actually went towards helping out real animal shelters. The Humane Society of the United States is a "humane society" in name only. The HSUS does not oversee local animal care, humane shelters or animal control agencies of any kind. The HSUS is simply an animal rights lobby group."
Carriage Horse Facts - Facebook


  1. Kelsey YOU are positively awesome! What a refreshing and enlightened piece you have written here! Please don't stop sharing your thoughts and feelings on this subject, it is imperative that we all do all that we can to support the working horses in NYC for all the reasons you have given. Thanks for being bold and beautiful and profoundly honest. Pamela Rickenbach Director of Blue Star Equiculture. www.equiculture.org

  2. Kelsey,

    Thank you for such a balanced and well-thought-out viewpoint. I totally agree with you. My husband and I own and operate a commercial carriage service and through our membership in CONA, the Carriage Operators of North America, we have gotten to know lots of people throughout North America who also own and operate commercial carriage businesses. Like us, these people love their horses and go to great lengths to assure they receive the best of care. Like us, many of these companies are not located in big cities where they would have access to a population that can sustain a walk-up trade. Therefore, companies like us mostly provide horse drawn vehicles for special events such as weddings, parades, festivals, etc; even funerals. Not only do our horses bring joy to us everyday as we have the honor of caring for and interacting with them but they bring joy and special meaning to people at some of their most memorable occasions. It may be a once in a lifetime "Cinderella" moment at a wedding, a ride for a child in a sleigh with Santa at Christmas or it may be a somber moment for a family at a graveside service as their loved one arrives in a horse drawn hearse. Horses and humans are connected...even people who are not "horsey" have that historic tie to them. One does not have to look very far back in history to see how dependant we were on each other.

  3. Kelsey Thank You . This is a refreshing bit of journalism. I commend your open mind and ability to look past the issues to illuminate the reality of fanatiscism. The immediate (SEE WORD MEDIA) issues are oftena smoke screen fro broader more extreme measures. Anyone tries to Free my pets they will learn that a 53 year old woman can turn feral in seconds!!! I cannot help but recall the PETA protest where poor pet showd dogs were released and killed on the highway...fanatics breed extremists. oops soap box is wobbling...thank youu Hillary

  4. Thank you so much for standing up and speaking ”common sence”

  5. Great article Kelsey. Here is my questions to those protesting. Should you succeed in your quest to shut down this industry where do you think those carriage horses are going to end up? Do you think they will be put out to pasture as lawn ornaments now that their owners have been put out of business and can no longer support them? Do you think they can survive in the wild and form new herds living free of fear of the BLM? Just curious if you've heard of horse slaughter as a means to be rid of young, healthy and unwanted horses? What of the horses who would take their places as they are retired? What will be their fate now that another option for horses to live a productive life has been taken away? Or will you be taking on the responsibility of caring for these animals?
    Just askin'. Have you really thought this through?

  6. I can't speak for NYCLASS, but PETA has gone on record as saying that there is no reason not to humanely euthanize any animal living in sub-optimal conditions, or who MIGHT some day suffer, including the carriage horses. After all, they say, animals don't understand death and to them dying by injection is no more traumatic experience than being given general anesthesia. Um, except they don't wake up?
    "I was in Los Angeles for a speaking engagement when three PETA employees approached me. One employee explained to me that animals don’t need to be suffering in order for him to be justified in killing them. He then explained that he has the right to round up and kill cats, even if they are not suffering, simply because he “believes” they might suffer. In fact, he said that no matter the circumstances, killing is not unethical—even convenience killing—because it is just like being put under anesthesia for spay/neuter, with the only difference being that the animal never wakes up." – Los Angeles, CA, March 13, 2012