Earlier this week, Associate Editor Jeff Cota wrote a story about the proposed New York City carriage horse ban. This article previews a magazine piece on the subject that is written by New York farrier Jerry Trapani.
Even before his election, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio declared removing carriage horses from the Big Apple a top priority. Chief among the reasons is that he’s declared the practice as cruel and the living conditions as inhumane.
What constitutes "animal cruelty?". One person's definition may not match another's. Yes, of course, reasonable and sane people share a common identification of the results of the mistreatment of companion animals — think the ASPCA commercials with the sappy Sarah McLachlan and Willie Nelson songs. But what about horses that work? That gets as gray as it can get in terms of defining cruelty.
Don’t limit this to carriage horses. What about those that charge around racetracks, jump over fences or whip around barrels? Those involved in these varied areas (trainers, riders, promoters, veterinarians, farriers, spectators, etc.) likely don’t see the well-treated horses of equine disciplines as inhumanely treated. But many animal rights advocates/activists, especially those sardined in their NYC apartments with little exposure to horses, would disagree. And within the “animal advocates,” there are varied causes — what the horse should or should not wear on its feet, for example.
Myself and many others make “gray area” judgments based on unbiased expert opinion of people and organizations we respect. Virginia veterinarian Steve O’Grady is one of my many sources (full disclosure, he is also an AFJ advisory board member and frequent International Hoof-Care Summit speaker). Having traveled around the globe in service to equids, he’s seen some of the best and worst kept horses in his decades as an equine practitioner. Dr. O’Grady also told Cota, he’s seen the conditions these horses liveand doesn’t see a problem:
“When you walk into stables, a lot of times they’ll have a smell to them,” says the International Equine Veterinarian Hall Of Fame member. “In other words, they smell like a barn. They smell like horses. They smell like horse manure. During my visit, when you walked into this place, there was no smell whatsoever…
“You could not get the smell out of there in a week to 10 days if you tried,” he says. “This is just another indication as to the conditions and cleanliness in which these horses are housed…
“I mean, if I had my choice and I were a horse, I wouldn’t mind being in this situation. You go out and smell the roses and kids are putting flowers on you every day.”
And the experts who defines equine cruelty for de Blasio? Nothing in his resume identifies him as an expert on the subject. Instead it is politics as usual — campaign donations craft the recipients' opinions. De Blasio gets his advice from New Yorkers for Clean Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), who have championed this cause. And they should have the mayor’s ear — the group and several of its members spent a lot of money to buy it through funding de Blasio and attack ads against his primary and general election opponents:
As of mid-March, his honor has yet to visit the stables, but continues to sing for his supper by his opposition to carriage horses. I suppose when he is up for re-election in 2017, all of this will be settled and the mayor will find out how wise it was to champion a cause that most New Yorkers disagree with. Or maybe by then de Blasio will find another cause that can fund his political aspirations.
I've heard many farriers refer to their trade as the world second oldest profession. It is more like the third oldest, with de Blasio reminding us that politician places second. After all, as Ronald Reagan said, it "bears a striking resemblance to the first."