Dr. Brendan Furlong is a respected equine veterinarian and the vet for the U.S. Olympic Eventing teams since 1996. He is the owner of B.W Furlong & Associates, one of the premier equine sport horse practices on the East Coast and is considered to be an expert on lameness in horses.
Thirty years ago, I took my then-girlfriend for a carriage ride around Central Park in New York City. It seemed like a traditional and romantic thing to do. Looking back, with the knowledge I now have about how these horses are abused on a daily basis, I realize that the “romantic” cover under which the horse carriage system operates shields a sobering reality.
Horse-drawn carriages should be a thing of the past. In New York City, horses now have to deal with heavy automobile traffic, motorbikes, cyclists, roller-bladers, skateboarders, hordes of pedestrians and endless noise and confusion. The roads are hard and slippery. There are traffic lights, flashing lights and sirens. Simply put, this bombardment of his sensory system causes the horse extreme stress. Add to that the physical toil of pulling a heavy carriage around for up to nine hours a day, often without adequate rest, shade or shelter, and you must understand why this is asking too much of these beautiful animals.
When they’ve completed a day of hard labor, the horses are then returned to former tenement buildings converted into cramped stable space. Without the ability to move freely in such a confined area—an arrangement that causes significant physical strain—the end of the workday is hardly a respite from the pains accumulated during the day.
In fact, the life expectancy of a horse is reduced by half once it reaches Manhattan to be used for this work. Then, once their usefulness is drained by the carriage owner, the horses are very often auctioned off to “kill-buyers,” who then transport them to slaughterhouses where they are killed for meat.
These harsh realities have been hidden in recent months by the passage of legislation in New York City, Intro 35, that provides these horses with five weeks of vacation. This has given advocates of the horse-carriage system ammunition to claim that the horses are in fact being taken care of, when in truth, this measure—while a step in the right direction—distracts from the fundamental issues of inhumane treatment that have still not been addressed.
New York has always been a beacon to the rest of the nation and the world. Now the city has a wonderful opportunity to show the progressive face it is known for by phasing out the horse carriage system in favor of a viable alternative of hybrid-engine, antique-style cars. It’s a decision that would impact not only the horses that would be spared unnecessary suffering, but also send a message to the millions of New Yorkers and visitors to New York that inhumane treatment of horses cannot be tolerated for tradition’s sake.
Fortunately, you can make a difference and help turn this goal into a reality. One way to do so is to send a letter to the New York City Council in support of Intro 86, which would support the transition from the horse-drawn carriages and towards the alternative of “green” antique-style cars.
Just as importantly, the next time you’re planning your next romantic night out in Manhattan, consider your full range of options—including the theater, world-class restaurants and countless nightlife possibilities. There are plenty of ways to enjoy a night on the town, without adding to the burden of an already-suffering creature. Let’s make sure together, that your romance doesn’t become his nightmare.
By Dr. Brendan Furlong