My brother-in-law, Adam Rowe, recently asked me what I thought about the ASPCA’s and other activist groups’ recent attempts to pass legislation that would ban horse-drawn carriage rides in New York City. The activists claim that the industry as whole should be banned because the horses are allegedly overworked and deprived of proper food, water, and shelter. If you go to the Carriage Horses-NYC blog, a site maintained by one such activist group, you see a woman standing next to a horse in harness and holding a heart-shaped sign bearing the slogan, "Give These Horses Their Freedom."
My first reaction to the activists’ cause was, assuming at least some carriage operators treat their horses well, why would they want to ban the trade as a whole? The draft horses have a job and are being put to use, which in my mind is preferable to the dubious fate of the "unwanted horse", which many of these horses might become if they cannot be used for surrey rides. Due to the recent ban on horse slaughter in the U.S., many in the horse industry predict that unwanted horses will be now be euthanized and disposed of, or shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. See USA Today article on subject. The activists (and many other horse lovers, myself included) would probably prefer that the carriage horses be released into vast green pastures to run free for the rest of their lives (which can be 30 years or longer). However, the activists trying to pass this legislation seem short on ideas on who will take care of the horses once they are "given their freedom."
Another thought is that the mistreatment of carriage horses is already illegal in New York. According to New York law (McKinney’s Agriculture & Markets Law Sect. 353), a carriage driver is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor if he "overdrives, overloads, tortures or cruelly beats" a horse or allows another to do so. He is also liable if he deprives a horse of "necessary sustenance, food or drink," or neglects or refuses to furnish a horse such "sustenance, food, or drink". I assume that if a particular carriage driver is charged under this criminal statute, his business will not flourish for long.
Perhaps the most humane thing the activists can do is involve local law enforcement in the investigation of the carriage drivers whom they suspect are guilty of animal cruelty, and let the carriage operators who properly treat their horses continue to do business in peace.