Certain quarters of our society direct a fair amount of derision and scorn at those who refuse to worship at the altar of science. So it’s rather peculiar that these same quarters ignore the experts while trying to rid New York City of horse-drawn carriages.
The New York City Council Transportation Committee is weighing a bill that aims to make it “unlawful to operate a horse-drawn vehicle in the city of New York or offer rides to the public on a vehicle drawn or pulled by a carriage horse.” If enacted, the industry will be outlawed on June 1, 2016.
“New York City’s proposed ban isn’t coming from people who work with horses day-to-day,” says Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). “Their claims aren’t based on science or recommendations from veterinarians. In fact, they ignore the expertise of ranchers, livestock owners and animal care professionals who work with animals every day and have been caring for these horses for centuries.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) have made much out of the 220 horses that live a “miserable nose-to-tailpipe existence” in an effort to criminalize the carriage horse industry. The group is highly critical that these horses, many of which are draft breeds, are “pulling a vehicle that weighs hundreds of pounds, on hard pavement, while breathing exhaust from cars, buses and taxis.”
It’s a view that equine professionals aren’t buying.
“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,” famed horse trainer Buck Brannaman wrote in his book, “The Faraway Horses.” “Plus, these horses get lots of attention and affection from passersby. And horses love attention and affection as much as we do.”
The horses get a lot more attention than that. They are protected by the most comprehensive set of laws of their kind in the country.
The city mandates that the horses must be housed in stalls that are 60 square feet or larger, allow them to turn around and safely lay down within the stall. The stables are subject to inspection at any time by city officials, law enforcement, veterinarians and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The horses get 5 weeks of vacation at a stable that allows daily access to paddock or pasture turn out. They also are examined by a veterinarian two to four times a year, and must be appropriately trimmed and shod.
But it isn’t just the experts who aren’t buying it. In a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 63% of New York City voters say de Blasio should not ban horse-drawn carriages. The university’s polling, which has been tracking the issue since January 2014, consistently has demonstrated a gaping opposition to the proposed ban. In fact, voters who believe that carriage horses should remain legal never have dipped below 61%. No demographic comes close to supporting the ban, pollsters say.
“New York City’s carriage horses have been an important asset to citizens and visitors throughout the years,” Stallman said Wednesday. “Despite activist rhetoric that these horses are tortured and mistreated, they are in fact well cared for and valued.”
But don’t take a lobbyist’s word for it. What have the scientists and experts found?
Harry Werner, an equine veterinarian from North Granby, Conn., and Stephen O’Grady, a farrier and equine veterinarian from Marshall, Va., visited the carriage horse stables on separate dates. Both came away impressed with the condition of the stalls and stables, and the overall care of the horses.
During his visit, Werner paid particular attention to signs of abuse and neglect, including harness sores, eye injuries, foot problems and respiratory ailments.
“I had my eyes open for any and all problems,” says Werner, who served as president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners in 2009. “I was pleasantly surprised not to see them.”
Eye injuries often are an indication that the horse’s welfare is not a priority.
“Abuse of a whip often has the eye as a victim,” explains the International Equine Veterinarian Hall Of Famer. “I didn’t see anything like that — no body scars, nothing like that.”
Among the most common reasons that NYCLASS wants to ban carriage horses is pollution. Werner is quick to point out that the air quality in the city is far from optimal. Yet, none of the horses he examined demonstrated evidence of respiratory disease.
“As I went through these stables, I was very consciously looking for horses with a rapid respiratory rate, shallow respiratory depth, heaving, any evidence of respiratory abnormality — nasal discharges, coughs — and I didn’t see a one,” he says. “So, if people are worried about air quality, my response for them would be, ‘Fine, let’s worry about air quality. Where’s your evidence?’”
Evidence is the key to this issue. Yet, the science and experts are being ignored.
“The problem is that decisions are being made by people who don’t know what end of the horse the oats go in,” Werner says. “You have the anthropomorphic crowd, who would like to see nobody ever do anything with horses. Then, you have the political money crowd. The evidence crowd is the one that really needs to decide this issue.”
One might think that NYCLASS makes up the anthropomorphic crowd, but that’s not necessarily the case. Steve Nislick, the group’s founder, and his close associates have paid handsomely for a seat at de Blasio’s political table of influence.
To what end? Is it for the good of the horses?
The New York Times openly questions whether Nislick, a well-heeled real estate developer, has cast a leering eye toward the prime Manhattan property that’s occupied by the carriage horse stables.
While there is ample evidence that New York’s carriage horses are receiving top-notch care and enjoy contented, productive lives, it’s a wonder how those who worship at the altar of science are so quick to ignore it when it no longer serves their purpose.