Animal rights arguments against the carriage industry show their lacking knowledge of animal husbandry and equine care. Debunking the myths they perpetuate with common horse knowledge show that these activists are against the principle of working animals on a surface level without adequately researching the facts. Here are 5 carriage industry myths explained.
1. Walking on pavement is bad for their feet and legs.
Operative word: walking. Horses are a lot tougher than we give them credit for; they absorb some concussion naturally, even on hard surfaces like pavement. Working a horse in extra cushioned or soft footing can actually be worse than hard surfaces, as it puts a lot of strain on their tendons and ligaments.
Carriages horses in most sightseeing operations spend a majority of their day either walking at a sightseeing pace or standing. A shod horse working at slow paces on pavement does not experience enough concussion to cause discomfort or pain in the same way that trotting on hard surfaces for extended periods would.
If this type of work was detrimental to horse health, we would consistently see soundness issues in working carriage horses, but this is not the case.
2. The horses are not happy, and they are forced unwillingly to work.
I would argue that forcing a working horse not to work is the most inhumane thing one can do. Fulfilling a horse’s bred inclination to work is essential for their mental and physical health, as I explained in my previous post.
Horse body language is elusive to someone who hasn’t worked with horses much. They might expect a happy horse to be perky and alert, with ears pricked, standing at attention. In fact, a content horse relaxes. They lower their heads, cock a hind foot, or close their eyes for a snooze. To a non-horse person, this might look like sadness. It’s actually a desired indication that the horse is well-adjusted and calm.
Anyone who has worked with or trained horses knows that you can not force them to do something they don’t want to do. Horses are intelligent, social, incredibly strong animals, and if they are opposed to doing something, you cannot physically force them to. In my experience, working horses willingly come when called for work, or open their mouths to accept the bit when we’re harnessing. They love having a purpose and a job.
This study on cortisol levels in NYC carriage horses suggests that horses are actually happier in a working routine than when they are turned out for their annual furlough. (Despite what the title says, carriage horses in NYC walk through central park, and do not experience “long days of trotting.”)
3. Bits cause horses discomfort and pain.
Bits are meant to be used as tools of communication between the horse and rider/driver, not as forms of punishment. Not all bits are created equal, and it depends on the bit style and the way it’s used.
Bits that are properly fitted rest on the soft parts of a horse’s mouth that absorb pressure more mildly than hard surfaces. If a bit causes pain, the horse shows obvious signs of discomfort—headshaking, raising the head up high, opening the mouth, or refusing to work. If this happens, bit style and fit needs reevaluation. Horses can’t do their job willingly and effectively if they’re in discomfort, so it wouldn’t make sense for anyone in the industry to subject them to it. Horses should show no signs of bit evasion for the duration of a working shift, even when eating.
A knowledgeable rider/driver knows how to communicate properly and softly with a horse’s mouth to achieve what is being asked. Drivers are more physically disconnected from their horse(s) than a rider is, and considering the horse’s strength, it is useless to rely on a bit’s force to control them. Because of this, as well as the relaxed pace of sightseeing, most carriage horses are driven with a softer rein. They’re also well-trained for voice commands so the driver doesn’t have to constantly rely on tools like bits or whips.
Bits, when used properly, also round the horse to engage certain muscle groups. This helps them develop strength in the right places so they move comfortably and avoid injury; the kind of benefits you’d get from working out with a trainer who can guide your posture and technique.
4. Working in urban environments subjects horses to accidents and pollution.
Companies will not employ horses that aren’t well-adjusted to urban environments and all the distractions that come with them—the risk would just be too great.
There’s no denying that horses, even the calmest, most bomb-proof and well-trained ones, can be unpredictable. When accidents resulting in injury or death do happen, their frequency is statistically insignificant compared to motor vehicle accidents, yet nobody advocates banning cars.
People assume that horses are naturally unfit to work in cities because of the safety hazard, without realizing that cities exist because of horses. They’ve been bred to work in urban environments alongside machinery and cars for a very long time.
Horses are subject to no more pollution in cities than you or your dog does while going for a walk. If you don’t experience adverse health effects from biking to work or walking through your city every day, it’s unlikely that working animals do.
5. It is too taxing for a horse to pull that much weight for long shifts.
Non-horse people often underestimate how strong horses really ard—particularly drafts or draft crosses used in the carriage industry.
A fit draft horse typically weighs between 1500 and 2000 pounds, and is capable of pulling 3x that in dead weight. The standard vis-à-vis carriage used in most commercial sightseeing companies weighs between 700 and 1200 pounds. This might seem like a lot of weight to pull for hours of work, but keep in mind that carriages are evenly weighted and are obviously not dead weight. An average person can easily pull one of these carriages up a ramp and into a storage container after a day’s work. Considering the relative size and power of a horse and carriage, you can think of it as walking around with a light backpack once the carriage is rolling.