For the horses, reject the park deal: An equine rights advocate says the 'compromise'
plan would in some ways be worse for the animals
BY SUSAN KAYNE | NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | Monday, February 1, 2016, 5:00 AM
Susan Kayne’s Op-Ed about the pending raw deal for carriage horses is exactly right. Central Park, with all its activities, has already taken the lives of several carriage horses — including Smoothie, who was spooked by drum-playing. [...] The mayor’s compromise bill has no protection from slaughter for the horses, nor any oversight for the well-being of the horses, and is relegating them to stalls much too small for working horses!
The plan to move carriage horses to a stable in Central Park ironically neglects to take into adequate account the well-being of the horses themselves — the creatures in whose name this was supposed to be about from the beginning. And the sad reality is that the new arrangement will not be better for the animals. In many ways, it will be worse.
In 1872, Charles Darwin pointed out that animals, like humans, convey emotion through their faces. Horses have an especially rich repertoire. Their 17 distinctive expressions are the second-most documented of any animal. They use their ears, nostrils, lips, eyes, cheeks and brow to show an extensive range fear, worry, pain and depression.
On July 8, 2012, amid a sweltering week of heatwave above 90 degrees, I videotaped carriage horses on Central Park South. Human foot traffic was light and hurried; cars and taxis whizzed past.
At that point, I hadn’t formed an opinion on the urban carriage-horse trade. Having spent the majority of my life working with horses across a variety of disciplines, I have always given the benefit of the doubt to those who also make their livelihood with horses. For me, the physical and mental wellbeing of the horse comes first and is paramount to any other factor.
As I studied the horses that day, beyond the effects of unrelenting heat — sweat, restlessness, exhaustion — other signs of their condition revealed themselves.
Behind blinkers, furrowed brows and listless eyes, they conveyed debilitation and defeat. No shock-absorbent or protective pads were present under their steel shoes. Most sought pain relief by alternating one front foot, then the other, out in front of their chest or up on the curb. This is symptomatic of hoof, joint or limb lameness, equivalent to severe tendonitis in humans. Pain-avoidant behavior is an immediate red flag to any astute horse person.
Many of the pro-carriage industry claims include some assurance that every driver is conscious of their animals’ health. To work a sore, tired horse under the blistering sun on smoldering pavement with no shade, discredits the genuineness of the care and concern that supports their arguments. On subsequent visits I have observed more of the same.
I am not against horses working, but I am against working horses in conditions to their detriment.
Horses are predominantly visual animals; it’s little known that their eyesight is superior to domestic cats and dogs. As prey animals in the wild, their instinct when frightened is to flee. Despite the harnessing of their bodies, suppression of their natural decisions and blinding their peripheral sight with blinkers, they are easily panicked.
At first glance, the “compromise” bill being touted by Mayor de Blasio seems like a good move. It confines the industry to Central Park, reduces equine population to 75, provides more appropriate stabling and gets horses off streets.
With the proposed measure comes a myriad of new rules and regulations. Microchipping and documentation of the sale of licensed horses will be required in an effort to safeguard horses from being sold for slaughter. Most of the 70,000 horses from the northeast U.S. who sell at kill auctions are without ID; carriage-horse licenses on hooves are easily sanded off.
Glaringly absent from the statute are procedures to prevent, monitor and treat issues caused by long work days in an urban setting: x-rays to benchmark, evaluate and treat degenerative joint conditions; shoeing by a certified farrier with protective pads for concrete and stone; endoscopic exams to assess tissue damage and ulcers from exposure to exhaust fumes ; and random drug-testing to determine abuse of painkillers, muscle relaxers, tranquilizers and other drugs that mask degenerating health. Any equine professional with concern for the health of working horses would mandate the same.
As far as stables and paddocks in the park, far more space is required. The proposed stall size of 100 square feet is not sufficient for large draft breeds — 14 x 14 square feet should be the minimum size.
Paddocks of at least a one-acre size per horse are essential to equine physiological and psychological well-being — ask any veterinarian. This cannot help but impact Central Park’s multiple uses, and will constitute an extraordinary expense.
Although the horses will no longer be threatened by vehicular traffic on their park-limited routes, there is always the risk of frightening any equine animal. Central Park has large volumes of visitors who could potentially be severely injured by a runaway horse and carriage.
The 180 or so carriage horses in service now have no say in whether they will continue to be of service, be served on a plate or retire to sanctuary. If 75 horses are suddenly burdened with the workload of 180, they will work until they drop, because that’s how horses are, they make the best of whatever situation they are placed in.
Nostalgia aside, the presence of horses and carriages in a 21st century urban environment makes a mockery of true compassion. Relocation to Central Park cannot redeem the carriage horse industry.
Kayne is founder and president of the Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation.
PHOTO BY MARK BONIFACIO | NEW YORK DAILY NEWS