Horse Manages to Escape the Slaughter House and Hoofs it to Greener Pastures

In her former life, Chance worked nine hours a day wedged between the shafts of a horse carriage and wearing blinders.

25 September 2010

In her former life, Chance worked nine hours a day wedged between the shafts of a horse carriage and wearing blinders.

When she wasn't navigating her way through Central Park and congested Manhattan traffic, the Percheron draft horse was cooped up in a tiny stall at West Side Livery, a stable located in a tenement building on W. 37th St. The cramped space didn't allow for the statuesque horse to lie down - or even move around.

Fortunately, Chance's darkest days are behind her. Today, the former carriage horse spends her days freely roaming the lush grounds of a 50-acre farm in Long Valley, N.J. At night, Chance sleeps in a roomy stall that is large enough for her to lie down in, and she has unlimited access to hay and water.

"She's gone from a horse with dead eyes and no interest in her surroundings to a very active, alert, happy animal who loves people, other horses and loves to be ridden," said Steve Nislick, who runs Edison Properties and advocates on behalf of carriage horses. "It took her three months to finally lie down."

Nislick, a Manhattan resident, adopted Chance two years ago after spotting her on the website of a Pennsylvania equine retirement farm. The nonprofit group had pulled the 7-year-old horse from a slaughter auction in New Holland, Pa.

Advocates say the average working life of a carriage horse on the city's streets is under four years; once retired, they are often sold for their meat.

Chance has severely damaged hooves, likely caused by years of pounding the pavement in ill-fitting shoes fitted by inexperienced workers, Nislick said. Besides the physical damage, she had had no direct contact with other horses.

But thanks to rehabilitation by equestrian eventing champion Virginia Rowsell plus top veterinary care and shoes fitted by one of the country's best blacksmiths, Chance went from rags to riches.

In June, another former carriage horse - an 18-year-old gelding rescuers named Bobby - was also spared from the kill pen at the same slaughter house. That rescue was a collaborative effort of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Equine Advocates, a horse sanctuary located in Chatham, N.Y.

"One of the first things he did when he got here was get down on his knees and roll," said Equine Advocates founder Susan Wagner.

Carriage horse experts say that finding both Chance and Bobby was a fluke; the four-digit ID number carved into the hooves of all city carriage horses helped identify them. In most cases, the numbers are sanded off when the horses are sent to brokers or to auction so they can't be traced back.

Today, there are 206 licensed carriage horses working the city's streets. New regulations require they get a mandatory five weeks' annual vacation, annual health inspections and accommodation in box stalls. It's also illegal to work after 3 a.m., in weather hotter than 90 degrees or colder than 18 degrees.

But advocates say it's not enough. Laura Eldridge, who runs NYCLASS, a nonprofit that works to find common-sense solutions to public safety and quality of life issues, said carriage horse owners and drivers frequently ignore the regulations, with no repercussions.

A bill currently before the City Council, Intro 86, however, would phase out the horse-drawn carriages and replace them with electric-powered replica antique cars.

By Amy Sacks
Daily News
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