Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Law Of Averages

Recently I read a comment on the internet that said:

According to both Peggy Parker, formerly of the Carriage Horse Action Committee, and Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages, the average working life of an urban carriage horse is less than four years, as compared with that of mounted police horses who are able to serve an average of fifteen years before being retired. One of the worst horse and mule slaughter auctions in the nation takes place every Monday morning in New Holland, Pennsylvania. At times you will see horse trailers belonging to some of the New York City carriage horse operators in the massive parking lot at the auction. It could be that they are there to buy horses for their trade, but there is also the possibility that they are selling old, used up and/or injured horses and that usually means a horrifying trip to the slaughterhouse.

You'll notice that the "It could be that they are there to buy horses for their trade," is buried at the bottom of the paragraph.

There is an organization, Blue Star Equiculture, with whom a Philadelphia, PA carriage driver I know is closely associated, that goes in and purchases horses at auction to retire or re-home them. But, of course, the ARA's also fail to mention that "possibility".

I've posted about this before. The ridiculous statement that as soon as a horse has outlived its usefulness it's immediately sent to slaughter. I also got into the same discussion last year on a radio talk show board with an idiot who stated the same thing. When I mentioned that all slaughter houses in the US that sold horse meat specifically for human consumption were legislated out of business some time ago, she said, "Oh, I didn’t know that."

Well, that's because she is not in an equine related field and knows nothing about horses except they are big and pretty. That's something we can both agree on. Horses are big, and they are pretty. They are also livestock, but that's a discussion for another day.

Most of our horses were, to quote Ro, "Somebody else's problem." There is, quite frankly, not a huge market for draft horses in the US. Especially not cross breeds or non registered draft horses. Many of our horses are aged to begin with and/or are rejects in one way or another. We like "aged" horses, it means they've seen the world and have their wits about them. A lot of them come to us thin, and are loaded up with groceries before they ever get put to work. Tom was headed for the kill pen from the rodeo circuit. Jerry walks like he has eggbeaters for legs. Rex and Ace came from a competing carriage company in Salt Lake that went under. We bought Libby from the people running the horse concession at "This is the Place" State Park. Tony was used in a bicentennial re-enactment group, and before that he was a competitive puller. We get Amish trained plow horses that no longer can work sun up to sundown in the field. In other words, our horses are from someplace else before they came to us. We do not breed/raise our own work force.

So the ARA's go around saying that we in the industry treat carriage horses as if they are disposable. They make it sound like a driver dressed as Snidley Whiplash goes out into that mythical pasture full of clear running streams and rainbows, ropes a wild horse, beats it into submission, bundles them into tack like an unwilling participant at a bondage festival, and sticks them out on the street where they are tortured and terrified by honking horns and brass bands. After working them 24/7 in temperatures that are either -20 ̊F or 137 ̊F for four years straight, they are whisked away to auction and certain doom.

Sorry, ARA's, but that just isn't so. As of April 1st, I have been employed as a driver for 6 years. When I started at the carriage barn, the following horses lived and worked there:

Jock, Jack, Sonny, Chief, Vea, Annie, Morris, Sam, Pete, Prince, Kid, Belle, Max, Tom, Cletus, Rex, Charlie, Ping, King, Jim, Bob, Ace, Bart, and Tony. (24)

During my time as an employee the following horses were also added to the string:

Jerry, Ralph, Ben, Ben Belgian, Smith, Wesson, Libby and last fall we acquired Hank and Cisco. (9)

Of the previously listed horses the following either passed on or were put down due to injuries sustained in the pen, old age, colic, or disease:

Jock, Max, Chief, Ben Belgian : Old age. (4)
Ben : Cancer (1)
Jack and Annie : Colic (2)
Vea and Sonny : Injury (2)

The injuries sustained in the pen were inflicted by other horses, and anyone who knows anything about horses knows that they occasionally fight, colic, and get sick. And while we prefer to wish otherwise, all living things grow old. Nobody gets out of this life alive.

The retired horses are as follows:

Morris, Kid, Sam, Prince, Pete, Ping, King, Belle and Ralph. (9)

The horses still working there, who have been working there since before I started six years ago, are:

Tony, Cletus, Charlie, Jim, Bob, Ace, Rex, Tom, and Bart (9)

Along with the horses that came after my employment began:

Libby, Jerry, Smith, Wesson, Hank and Cisco (6)

So, in response to the ARA's statement that the average carriage horse is in service for four years, I say "Bullshit". Our co-workers are valuable assets. They are painstakingly desensitized to the noise and traffic of our city before we ever put customers in the carriage. The ones who have the right personalities to do the job stay in service as long as they are fit. The ones who don't, get re-homed, like Belle. She lives in Wyoming with her owner, a former carriage driver whose screen name is "Belle's Personal Assistant" for a reason.

So, let's crunch the numbers, shall we? And average it out together:

Total horses= 33
Passed on= 9
Retired= 9
Balance of horses still at work= 15
Average number of animals sent to slaughter after working as a carriage horse for 4 years= 0

For our guys, I think the odds are pretty damn good.

















Belle's personal assistant said...

When I started driving in 1995, Jock, Chief, Vea, and King, were already in residence. That is definitely over the four year average, but I think that you are forgetting a few horses, either that or I am not remembering when you started driving. Didn't you ever meet Mikey, or Red. They each had 10+ years in. An that was AFTER a pulling career.

Horses need something to do. Everything needs a purpose in life. I would much prefer a horse to be well taken care of and working a couple days a week to starving or dying of thirst on BLM land or someone's backyard. Death is preferable to some of the abuse and neglect that has occured to horses in this economy.
Free the Horse! These ARA's scream at the drivers as they roar by in their vehicles. Do you really want the horse to be turned loose in the city? Or dumped in the deserts of Utah?

I need to work to earn my way. All creatures must work in someway in order to survive. At least let them do something that they enjoy. Belle still loves to be harnessed, she was just sick of the traffic of SLC. SO WAS I. That's why we are happily living in Wyoming.

Not every horse can be or wants to be a carriage horse. They don't make it. I never thought that Tony would be a carriage horse, but he is great. I did not know how Bart would react to being a single horse vs. pulling with Belle.(Especially after the first time in the shafts, he slammed into reverse the second that he felt the weight.

sorry for turning this into a huge comment, but I just don't get it. I will now step off the soapbox for someone else.

Lisa Deon said...


I drove Red my second night of training when I rode with you. However I could not remember what happened or why he left, so he was omitted. So were several of the horses purchased and never/seldom put into the work rotation, like the B&W paint, and Tisdale. Horses who, it was apparent very early on, would not remain on the payroll. Four strawberry roan Belgians were purchased at the Denver sale at one time. Of the four, Ben Belgian, was the only horse put to work. One died within days of shipping fever, one broke his leg in the pen, and the last one was sold to a farm. They knew right off he was not cut out for the street, and even when they bought him (he was part of a team and a package deal) they knew they would be selling him right off.

Tisdale went to a girl who wanted to learn to ride. The flebitten grey is out to pasture with Ralph. And I never met Mikey, Mike B, Mike C, Clyde, Skipper, or Sally. There are many who went before me and with this company being in business for over 25 years it's impossible to document every horse that came in or went out through the barn doors.

The point of the post is that the ARA's imply that the animals are used up and disposed of, which we both know isn't how it works.

Point of fact, it takes much longer to train a horse then a driver, and the type & temperment of the ones we use make it easier to replace the drivers, then the horses.

Lisa Deon said...

Not Skipper, Sailor. My bad.

Lou said...

Hey, SD. Only complete idiots would think that a carriage horse's life was so short. It's one of the easiest jobs a horse can have. And if they are not well cared for, the public, who rides in the carriages, would be screaming to high heaven. Not to mention the other folks who see the horses.

If the carriage horses were sick, skinny or lame, the public would be calling 911 on youse guys.

As it is, every carriage horse I've ever seen is well-fed and healthy!

Lisa Deon said...

Thanks, Lou, and you're right. Our horses are in the public eye every day they go out to work.And ours are, ahem, a little on the fat side...

Stephen said...

Hey Sd, My name is Stephen Malone and I am acting President of Horse and Carriage Association of Ny and I love your post. If I may make a suggestion could to could you please refer to the animal rights activists by their real name "The Animal Wrongs". This is how we refer to them among other things in Ny. I loved every inch of your post. I have just completed a 4 year battle with the City of NY to pass our current legislation. In the legislation we called for more healthcare, vacations for horses, raincoats for weather below 55degrees, heavier and more weather resistant blankets for winter months, apprenticship programs for new drivers, brakes on all carriages, implemented a retirement age of 26, age limits on purchasing a new horse--not younger than 5, more reflective material on carriages as well as harnass and in return we got our first rate increase in 21 years!!! All the animal wrongs referred to this as window dressing!! I say Obama had an easier time getting his Healthcare plan passed than we did. I am very proud of this legislation and I pieced every inch of it word for word with help from some very good "Urban Horsemen". In my meetings with all the city politicians I always referred to myself as an equine engineer!! We are specialists in what we do whether you are in NY,Philly, Boston or whereever you may live and we should be proud of what we do. Thanks for the space!!

Belle's personal assistant said...

Maybe I have this all wrong, but why would you box yourself in with so much legislation? How about just using horse sense and figure out what is right for the specific horse? Now, I am guessing that the way carriages are run in NY are VERY different from SLC. Health Care? The drivers are all part time, even the ones that work every day are only making part time money. Nobody can actually rely on paying the rent with carriage money. 1- Utahns don't tip. 2- Drivers make commissions. Sometimes that is great (I love $500+ nights) but if the weather is crappy or if there is too much construction (most of the time) it just doesn't pay the bills. SD has never claimed that she will make a million with her carriage driving, she will have to wait to make the millions when she becomes the next JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, J.D. Robb etc.
Why should it be against the law to buy a horse under the age of 5? Charlie, Bob, Bill, and Jim were all purchased before they were 5. They were not used on the street until they were 5, and even then, Charlie and Jim were a team and then Jim and Bob were a team before they made it as singles. Bill did not like to pull and is a great saddle horse. Why should a horse be forced to retire at 26? Jock would have flipped out (I think that he did for a while if he was not a part of the team well into his 30s. Even when he was not working, he had to be a part of the barn and not out to pasture. He loved the hustle and bustle of the barn. Why have a mandatory age limit? Some need to retire earlier, some later. If there are laws for retiring the horses at 26, how about retiring congressmen at 75 or even 85?
Blankets and Raincoats??? Belle grows a 4 inch winter coat. I don't even ride her in the winter with a saddle so that she won't overheat. The only time that she is blanketed is when she needs it and we are often at 0 degrees Farenheit.

Vacations for the horses?? You mean that those are not already planned into the schedule. Its just common sense. It also helps during training. After Belle was trained as a single, she went out to pasture so that Bart could be trained as a single. He needed the time away from her so that he could focus on the training. It also helps out the company. When it's slow, it is better to have more horses out to pasture with their hooves taking a break from shoes, defecating on acreage, rather than pens that must be cushioned with shavings. The horses have a chance to recharge, ready to take on the busy times. Horses worked moderately will be healthier than horses that are either overworked or never worked.

It just makes sense to have brakes on all of the carriages.

More reflective material on the carriages and harness? Have you not seen SD's christmas carriage? It is lit up like a Christmas tree. In addition to the carriage lights, most of the carriages also have LED rope lights lining the undercarriage, making the carriages very visible.

Apprenticeships for new drivers? That's why we have training and then they get the horses that can babysit rather than setting them lose with Bart, Bob, or Wesson.

Ok, enough of the soap box. Have a nice day.

Lisa Deon said...

We are fortunate to live in a state and an area of the country where the natives have not forgotten that horses paved the way west.

In other words, thank God PeTArds don't like dry heat.

Many of the items included in NY carriage horse bill were approved by the drivers- we don't blanket our horses here but it also doesn't get nearly as cold out here in the winter as it does on the east coast. Also, no ASPCA.

For which, since I am from the Midwest, I am thankful.

Plus, very few tornados.

I'm happy for my NY friends that the bill passed, because it gets the humaniacks off their backs.

Until, of course, they find something NEW to bitch about.

Belle's personal assistant said...

I will stick to Wyoming

Analise said...

Just a comment on the subject of NYC Carriage horses.

The rescue I volunteer with has been going to New Holland off and on for years and as far as I know, they've only run across ONE carriage horse from NYC and he was NOT dropped off there by the carriage company (he was put in another home and that home was who took him to NH).

We know he was a NYC horse because he still had his number branded into his front left hoof when we got him. And it's possible that in the process of trying to find out his story, a bit of a brouhaha was started where the carriage companies in NYC had to account for all the horses they'd retired to ensure others hadn't ended up in his situation.

Anyway, Manhattan (as we named him) was a roarer (which is why we assume he was "retired" since, though he could do the work, it's not exactly a nice carriage ride if your horse is roaring in front of you the whole time).

Anyway, where was I going with this?

Oh yeah, that part of your quote that suggested there's NYC Carriage company trailers lined up at NH every week just dropping off old and unfit horses struck me as patently false. I won't say they don't end up there (because, as you can see, Manhattan is an example that it CAN happen) but as far as I know, it is NOT the norm.

And here, have a picture of the horse in question. :)

Lisa Deon said...


That quote was pulled from the website of Equine Advocates,
and is just another prime example of using misinformation to promote their anti-carriage rhetoric.

See, it doesn’t matter if their information is correct, as long as it speaks to an uninformed persons heart and WALLET.

And it kills me that nobody ever asks them to cite their source. They appeal strictly to emotions, using fabrications or single event taglines to sucker gullible people into "action".

It's a bunch of Bullshit.

IrishLassie said...

I'm glad to see the traffic your blog gets SD. I always enjoy reading it and thanks for sharing pics of my equine buddies. I miss Bart and Ace tons and your blog helps me when I'm home sick. ;-)