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
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.