Carriage Horses: The Truth About The Air They Breathe
One of the central elements of the campaign to banish the New York Carriage Horses is the assertion that they are suffering greatly from having to breath the air on the traffic-congested streets of Manhattan. A rational person might suggest the city consider banning some cars rather than the horses, but that's not how our political system works. Over the past weeks, I have been doing some research to try and figure out if the horses really are suffering from "sucking on tailpipes," as the animal rights groups like to say, and if they are falling ill to respiratory or pulmonary disease.
Recently I wrote that Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park – much of the park was built for the horses – would be saddened to hear that the city wants to ban horses from Central Park and not the cars or taxis or pedicabs that are allegedly killing them and, presumably, the human beings who jog and bike alongside of them. A woman named Ronnie immediately posted a message on my Facebook page saying that Olmstead would be saddened to see the horses suffering from fumes.
So are the horses really suffering from fumes? And is the air they breathe killing them to the point that they have to be banned so that they can be banished to rescue farms, and even more likely, killed even more brutally in slaughterhouses?
I'll start with this statistic.
In 1885, 9000 horses were put to death by the city of New York. Some were lame, some were sick, some collapsed hauling bricks and lumber, some had heat stroke, others fell into potholes, had colic or glanders, were bitten by rats, caught disease from swarms of flies and mosquitoes, ate raw sewage and animal feces, were killed by daily stable fires or boiler and machine explosions, set upon by dogs and wolves, drank poisonous chemicals in the streets or consumed infected water, were suffocated by chemical emissions from belching factories, ate rotten hay or feed, broke their legs in the hundreds of collisions with other horse-drawn wagons that occurred weekly on unpaved and dusty and crowded streets.
In New York City in2014, no carriage horse died or was put to death as the result of any of these things, including bad air. Ronnie can do the math herself if she wishes (I bet she doesn't.)
The sort of statement Ronnie made so blithely and certainly, and without any facts or data to support it, is familiar to me now in the curious world of the carriage horse controversy, where the horses very existence – and the lives of the hundreds of people who love and work with them – are threatened daily by myth and fantasy. Facts are few and lonely in this ugly debate, truth has been widowed.
I love truth, and I went searching for some.
I'd start with The Horse In The City: Living Machines In The Nineteenth Century, by historians Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr. It offers the best and most detailed account I have yet read of the lives of the carriage horses more than 100 years ago. It also gives the lie to the idea that the horses are worse off today than they were a century ago, or that the quality of their lives has declined in any way. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth, including the idea that the city's air is more dangerous now than it was for them.
First, I asked the Department of Health, which oversees the care of the horses, if there are any records showing that any of the carriage horses of New York examined in recent years died or fell ill to respiratory disease. The horses are examined regularly – up to four times a year by city veterinarians, and also periodically by outside organizations like equine veterinarians and farriers. A spokesperson told me a small percentage of the carriage horses suffered from respiratory allergies typical of horses everywhere. None had become seriously ill or died from these allergies.
The city's Department of Health says there are no records of any carriage horse suffering or dying from respiratory disease in the past ten years for which records have been kept. The symptoms of respiratory disease in horses are similar to those in humans – coughing, phlegm, wheezing, panting, crackling in the lungs. Insofar as city records show, no carriage horse has ever been found by any veterinarian to be suffering from respiratory disease or lung issues associated with breathing bad air in New York City. Like many of the accusations against the people in the carriage trade, and just to justify the urgent banishment of the horses fro New York, there is simply nothing there beyond the accusations and assertions.
According to McShane and Tarr, the lives of horses in New York City a century ago were sometimes horrifying. For one thing, their research makes clear, the air in the city was poisonous, much worse in many ways than it is now. There were clouds of dust from unpaved streets, smoke from coal and other fires, chemicals poured into the streets, fumes from factories belching fire and smoke, dead and rotting animals in the streets, sewage and mud, manure and human waste, clouds of flies. People riding in horse carriages often held handkerchiefs over their noses to protect from the awful fumes.
As I mentioned earlier, in 1885, more than 9,000 horse deaths were recorded by the city's Department Of Health. These were horses that were put to death for lameness, and died frequently of heat stroke and other toxic afflictions.
The New York Carriage Horses do not work in temperatures over 89 degrees, and the loads they pull – light carriages on rubber wheels on asphalt, mostly in Central Park, are not nearly as heavy as the loads of people and goods, lumber and bricks they pulled in cars on the streets of New York a century ago. Hundreds of horses died each year in the 1900′s stable fires, or were stricken with diseases carried by rats, flies, mosquitoes and mice. Hundreds more broke their legs in the many ruts ad potholes that marked most New York City Streets.
On the animal rights websites, you will read that the horse stables in New York do no have fire alarms. This is false, they all have fire alarms, heat and air-conditioning.
Many horses in the 1900′s died of glanders, a contagious disease. In fact, horses that pulled weight and cargo or who worked on railways died at double the rate of carriage horses. It should be noted that the cab horses of today work an average of six hours a day, almost entirely on shaded streets in Central Park, behaviorists, trainers and equine vets say they do not come close to being over-worked. They spent about 30-45 minutes in transit to and from the park, the rest of their time is spent in the park or in heated and air-conditioned stables. They also get five weeks in the country on their mandated vacations. They get more good air than the vast majority of New Yorkers and have better working conditions than any Amazon warehouse worker in America.
The horses also get five weeks of vacations a day. No carriage horse in modern times has died of heat stroke or overwork. In 2008, John Lowe, a veterinarian from Cornell University, examined 130 carriage horses, he found them to be contented and in good health, they had no more respiratory allergies than horses anywhere have. You can read his report here.
Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for Robert Redford's movie "The Horse Whisperers," and the most famous horse trainer in the country, recounts this story about the carriage horses and a visit to New York in his book "The Faraway Horses:"
"Next on my schedule were a couple of young women from MTV and Rolling Stone magazine. One of them asked, “What about those poor horses in Central Park? Don’t you think it’s awful how they have to pull those heavy carriages all day?”
I had an answer for that question “No, I don’t,” I said, then explained that the Central Park horses are content. 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. Plus, these horses get lots of attention and affection from passerby. And horses love attention and affection as much as we do.
The horses that people should be concerned about are the neglected ones that, after the “newness” of ownership wears off, live in box stalls all day. These horses have no purpose, no jobs to do. All they do is eat and make manure. Even prisoners get to exercise more than these horses, and the horses have never done anything wrong. If they had the choice, these horses would choose to be carriage horses rather than stand in their stalls."
Brannaman is famous all over the world for his advocacy of humane and positive treatment of horses. It is really conceivable that this horse whisperer would condone the abuse, overwork and suffocation of working horses?
The question of the air the horses breathe is very simple to gauge in one way – the carriage horses in New York live an average of 18 to 20 years, three times the life span of the carriage horses of New York in the 1900′s. They also live longer on average than horses in rescue farms because their health care, work and feeding are so intensely regulated and they have good shelter. The horses I have seen at equine rescue farms do not get nearly the quality of the hay fed the New York Carriage Horses or anything like the medical care and supervision.
According to the Central Park Conservancy, the air in the park is much cleaner than the air in crowded city streets, and has been deemed safe for runners and joggers. The park is, in fact, filled with joggers, bicyclists and walkers who work much harder and strain themselves much more than the carriage horses, who pull their carriages at a slow trot for short distances with mandated breaks every two hours.
If the air is too dangerous in the park for horses, why is it safe for people who jog and run and ride their bikes? The air pollution figures for the city are also sometimes surprising. The city's greenhouse gas emission levels are relatively low when measured per capita, at 7.1 metric tons per person, below San Francisco, at ll.2 metric tons, and the national average, at 24.5. In our world, we all live with some form of air pollution, the struggles of Mother Earth are the great challenge of our time. Horses all over the world breathe much dirtier air than the air in New York City, they are essential to work and the quality of life to millions of people.
The horses cannot be saved from human deprivations any more than people can, and ought not to be banished from our world because of our ignorance and denial and fantasized vies of animals. If the air is no good for them, it is no good for us, and we ought to fix it.
As for you, Ronnie, my wish for you is that you do some homework, seek out your own truth. I'd consider reading "Genius Of Place: The Life Of Frederick Law Olmsted," you will quickly discover for yourself Olmsead's love of the great horses, their centrality in his design of one of the world's great parks. More than anything, he wanted the park and it's many trails to accommodate the big horses, most of them were designed with them in mind. He considered the horses, along the trees and fountains, among the crown jewels of the park.
He imagined the park to be a home and showcase for them forever. What an awful stain on his great achievement to ban them from their city and their park and replace them with electric cards. No, Ronnie, I believe you will understand for yourself that Frederick Law Olmstead would be sad indeed to see that.
The horses are our partners on the earth, just like dogs or police horses. They share the joys and travails of life. They are not struggling to breathe the air in New York City or suffering from their existence there. These are not the horses who need rescue. These are not the people who abuse animals.http://www.bedlamfarm.com/2014/08/15/ca ... y-breathe/