A Look Inside the Largest Equine Prison in NYC
Human beings are notorious for destroying this planet and acting as if they deserve to be here more than their fellow earthlings. Our ongoing attempt to establish dominion over nature manifests in many ways, namely regarding our treatment of other species of animals.
When most people think of horse drawn carriages, they conjure up images of rose filled marriage proposals and magical horses galloping through winter’s first snowfall. If you examine these images more closely, however, you’ll uncover a much different story; a story of enslavement, imprisonment, and exploitation.
This past August, I traveled to New York City to attend Main Street Vegan Academy. While I was there, I decided to check out where the NYC carriage horses are held when they’re not dragging tourists around the bustling streets of Manhattan.
As I approached Clinton Park Stables where 39 of the 78 working horses live, I saw bars against the few windows. It looked like a brightly-painted prison. I introduced myself to an employee standing outside the entrance and eagerly asked if I could meet the horses. I patiently waited for him as he went to get permission from another staff member. He returned a few moments later bearing a thumbs up and a smile and offered to take me up to see the horses. He asked that I not record any videos. I respectfully agreed and followed him up a steep incline toward the next floor.
The first thing I noticed was the narrow aisles that the horses must meander through every day. Next, I saw rows and rows of horses in cages with thick metal bars. Each stall had a pile of hay in the corner but virtually no bedding for the horses to rest on. Their water trays were dirty, the air was thick and dusty, and unnatural fluorescent lighting flooded the entire floor.
Having interned at Catskill Animal Sanctuary, I know what a real horse stable looks like; and this did not even remotely resemble one.
When I took a closer look at the horses, I noticed friction burns,
scars, and open wounds on their midsections from the straps that tether the wagons to their bodies.
The public does not see these marks because they are normally concealed under equipment and extravagant costumes.
The gross objectification of these horses is also evident when you look at their hooves, which are branded with their carriage operator’s 4-digit ID. This further demonstrates their status as human property. I was not surprised to learn that carriage operators talk about their horses like inanimate objects and refer to “parking” their horses as if they are cars.
Proponents of this outdated industry argue that horse carriages are not inhumane because horses are strong animals who have a natural desire to “work”. This is an interesting rebuttal because physical ability should not constitute duty. In other words, just because someone can do something doesn’t mean they should have to.
A good way to determine if an animal is being exploited is to consider if the animal would willingly put themselves in that given situation. Though I can’t put a finger on exactly when horses first appeared in city streets, I’m quite certain they didn’t wander there on their own, strap themselves to oversized wagons, and decide to spend their days pulling heavy loads and weaving through traffic.
NYC regulations allow each horse to pull a maximum of 4 adult passengers at one time. This does not include the “driver” or factor in the weight of the carriage itself. In total, these horses are often pulling over 1,000 lbs for long hours on hard pavement, slowly destroying their joints and hooves. As a result, the victims of this cruel industry often develop arthritis at a young age. It’s also common for them to develop respiratory ailments from breathing in exhaust fumes.
These ethical dilemmas are nothing new. Former NY Comptroller, William Thompson Jr., who conducted a high-profile audit of the industry in 2007, found that the horses are not provided with enough drinking water and risk overheating on hot asphalt. He also discovered that the horses lacked proper veterinary care and were forced to live in their own waste due to inadequate drainage. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the past decade and big cities are becoming even more hazardous with time.
Making animals work in city streets not only poses danger to the horses, but it’s unsafe for passengers, pedestrians, and drivers too. Horses are known for becoming spooked very easily. When you consider how many horns and sirens you hear in the city, it’s easy to understand why there are dozens of documented accidents resulting in injuries and deaths of NYC horses.
In May 2018, a pedestrian in Central Park opened an umbrella in front of Arthur, the carriage horse. Startled and confused, Arthur turned around quickly, “jackknifing” the carriage and wedging it between two cars. Three passengers “on board” suffered injuries. This is just one example of many.
Unfortunately for the horses, their lives of misery do not end in retirement. A majority of carriage horses end up being sold to slaughter at livestock auctions when they are “spent”- the industry term for horses who are too weak to continue working. At the slaughterhouse, horses suffer an agonizing death. Investigations from Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses report that “horses are stabbed many times in the neck with a “puntilla knife” to sever their spinal cords, leaving them paralyzed and unable to breathe. The horse is then hoisted, bled out, and cut apart, often while still conscious and able to feel everything.”
The best thing we can do free these horses and prevent this from happening again is to boycott the industry. As consumers, we have the power to choose which industries we support. With so many alternatives to horse drawn carriages, there is no excuse to continue enslaving horses for profit. All animals are capable of experiencing suffering and are worthy of our moral consideration.