When you see horse-drawn carriage rides portrayed in the movies or on TV, it always seems so sweet. There’s the driver in a spiffy uniform, the quaint carriage with its big, spokey wheels, and the comforting clippity-clop of hooves as smiling passengers go dashing along. But behind this fairy tale image is a reality that, for the horses at least, is anything but sweet.
Being trussed up in a harness and forced to pull a carriage all day, every day—on pavement intended for motor vehicles and in the most congested city areas—is grueling, dangerous work. The constant pounding causes painful and debilitating leg problems. The inhaling of exhaust fumes spewing from cars, trucks, and buses causes respiratory disorders. And the constant weaving in and out of noisy, unpredictable traffic causes these sensitive animals to spook, resulting in accidents that too often injure them, as well as people.
Last summer alone, several incidents involving carriage horses made the news. Here is just a sampling:
- A horse named Oreo becoming so badly spooked that he broke free of his carriage, burst into busy traffic near New York’s Central Park, and ended up crumpled on the pavement after being shot by police with a tranquilizer gun.
- A drunk driver slamming into the back of a horse-drawn carriage in Galveston, Texas, killing one person and injuring the horse as well as four other people.
- A horse named Dutch suffering a leg injury and his driver smashing into a car windshield after a spooking incident in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- Two horses in Casper, Wyoming, getting thrown into the air, suffering major injuries, and later being euthanized after the carriage they were pulling was struck by an SUV.
And the cruelty doesn’t end when the horses are off the clock. Carriage horses are not provided with the basic necessities that horses need to lead natural, satisfying lives. They don’t get to graze in green pastures, or roll in the dirt, or bask in the sun, or socialize with their fellow equines. Most carriage horses, after a wearying day on the street, won't bed down at night in a comfortable, roomy barn or a nice grassy field. Instead, they’ll be parked like cars in a garage—often housed in the middle of the city in stalls so tightly cramped that they’re not able to turn around, much less lie down comfortably.
So how do these poor animals end up as carriage horses in the first place? Many are broken-down horses from the racetrack, breeds whose anatomy was never designed for such work. When they finally become too debilitated to pull carriages, they're often sent to auction on their way to slaughter.
Don’t let the movies fool you. There’s nothing magical about a carriage ride, not when the cost is denying horses all of their natural instincts and subjecting them to injury and even death. Fortunately, the use of horse-drawn carriages for entertainment has been banned in many major cities around the world, including London, Oxford, Paris, Toronto, Beijing, as well as numerous smaller cities throughout the U.S.
See the advocacy group Horses Without Carriages International for more information and how you can help with this issue. Their comprehensive website features a slideshow of images from around the world showing the cruelty of horse-drawn carriages, as well as photos of rescued carriage horses enjoying, at long last, the kind of happy life every horse deserves.