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Letters & Editorials

Conditions for Carriage Horses Improve Some in Holiday Season

December 30, 1989

To the Editor:
On Dec. 8, I joined with three patrol officers of the American Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and another equine veterinarian,
Dr. Rob Sinclair, to inspect New York City carriage horses at work during
the busy holiday season.

Since most traffic accidents involving horses occur at this time, and since
local law 89 (affording protection to these animals at work) has just been
temporarily stayed, the Carriage Horse Action Committee and the A.S.P.C.A.
felt that the horses required surveillance to assess their status. Because of the falling temperature that afternoon, and also our prominent regulatory presence, there were far fewer carriages in evidence than is usual in early December.

Unlike my previous inspections, this time we found no code violation,
fare fraud or disability serious enough to merit a summons. This does not
mean that all the horses were in acceptable condition. We still observed
some horses who were un-groomed, too thin, exhibiting signs of generalized
pain, dejected, improperly harnessed, and still saw too many horses
driven with the unnecessarily harsh double-twisted wire bits that are a
substitute for humane horsemanship and skill.

What it does mean is that the carriage-horse industry, aware of public
scrutiny, is showing its best side. Owners are using their healthier
animals for prime time work assignments and making some effort to remove
manure stains, as well as to provide the horses with blankets (they
require occasional reminders to use them, however). I am grateful for any
signs of improved horsemanship and concern, and I commend those drivers

However, I fear that without a strong regulatory presence and the news
media's attention, the abuses will rapidly rise again. These horses still
live in stables that are pure hell and still contend with the aggressive
driving habits and pollution of thousands of motorists. All too often
their drivers are too unskilled to recognize lameness or unwilling to
suffer financial loss by sending a lame horse back to the stable.

In short, their working and living conditions remain disturbingly inhumane,
especially without the protection of local law 89. The carriage horse
industry has temporarily blocked this law, despite the long, arduous (and
historic) struggle leading to its passage.

I hope the law will be reinstated as rapidly as possible and that the
overextended A.S.P.C.A. officers will continue to influence the
industry's conduct by their regular inspections, despite their already
excessive workload.

Voorheesville, N.Y., Dec. 13, 1989
The writer is a doctor of veterinary medicine.

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