Media Coverage

Blinders: Documentarian Donny Moss looks into the NYC horse carriage industry

NY Press - April 21, 2009 - posted by Casey-Samulski

Director Donny Moss' documentary Blinders takes a long, hard look at the serious questions of humaneness surrounding the carriage horse industry in New York City. Moss presents a compelling argument for why this popular tourist attraction must be stopped, showing it is imperative for the well being of the horses and New Yorkers alike. The film examines the horses' rigorous working conditions, the spate of serious traffic accidents involving the carriages, and the fate of the horses after they can be worked no further. It is playing on the Documentary Channel April 25 at 6 p.m., or you can check it out online anytime. We spoke with Moss about his reasons for examining the politically charged horse carriage industry.  

"I decided to make the film because I had walked by the horse drawn carriages for years and thought something didn’t look right here but I didn't know much about it," Moss told us. "What I did know was that there was a horrible accident, so I decided to take a look. I set out to make something small for YouTube but one witness led to another and by the time I was done, I had a three-hour documentary. I cut it down to one hour because I thought that length was more appropriate for TV."    

What has been the response to the film thus far?   

The response has been tremendous. I had low expectations because I was a novice. In the first call from a film festival they said, "Your film is dispassionate and linear and persuasive!" I was totally taken aback by that feedback. It won a Genesis Award [recently], which totally caught me by surprise because I was up against people like Anderson Cooper.

One of the other reactions that caught me by surprise is that people who are not animal people have said that the film forced them to consider humane treatment of animals in general, not just the issue of the carriage horses. Had it been a movie about meat or leather—something that required people to really change their behavior—I don’t think it would have had that impact.

The only negative feedback is from the industry, who claims it lies and has inconsistencies.

At one point veterinarian Andrew Lang points out that people tend to forget about the carriage accidents as bad as they may be. Do you have similar concerns that Blinders will be watched and then forgotten?   

It’s a difficult question. I am concerned that people will be angry in the moment and then go on with life the next day. The good news is that I’ve spoken with people who’ve seen the film and they have said they’ve taken action, gone out and contacted their councilmember or the mayor.

The other thing is that I’ve gotten emails from other people who’ve said, “Now, every time I see those horses, I think of your movie and how horrible it is.” It means they are spreading the word and peeling back the romantic facade.

In many ways this film is strongly against the carriage industry. Because objectivity is not a given here, do you think people will dismiss this film for not showing “the whole story” and what is your response to that?

When I went into this, I didn’t have a strong point of view, just a gut feeling. I made so many attempts to interview the carriage drivers and stable operators. Ultimately most wouldn’t talk to me on camera. In spite of multiple attempts to interview the carriage operators and stable owners, none would speak to me on camera. I did however interview a carriage driver, and he does convey his perspective on the industry.

But it only took three or four equine experts to convey the same message before I was convinced. There are certain conditions in NYC that cannot be corrected in a way that would make the industry humane or safe. The only solution is to ban it.

Am I concerned? I’m not concerned that people will say it’s not objective. I do interview tourists and a carriage driver to convey their perspective. I did everything I could even though the industry didn’t want to cooperate.

What do you say to opponents of your films position that want to maintain the horse carriages in Central Park?

There hasn’t been a negative reaction from anyone outside the immediate industry. I feel comfortable saying that.

I think there are some people who live in NYC who just don’t give it any thought. As soon as they realize the conditions they live in and the fact horses get hit by cars… they realize it’s preposterous. As soon as people see the film, they almost immediately say “I’m converted” or “I’m really angry.” It’s just easy to get behind this cause because it’s such a no-brainer.

And there are huge problems with the situation that simply cannot be corrected. NYC doesn’t have a pasture, so these horses have no place to graze, run, roll and interact physically with other horses as herd animals do. They have literally been stripped of the ability to do anything that comes naturally to them just so that unsuspecting tourists can take a 20 minute ride. I think if people realized that, they would be more sympathetic. Also, horses are nervous prey animals that flee if they are spooked. When they spook in a pasture, nothing bad happens. When it happens in the streets with cares all around them, all hell breaks loose. That simply can’t be fixed. If our dogs and cats were forced to work in these conditions, Newyorkers would be rioting in the streets.

Do you expect the industry to protest this film?

A Google search will show I have no history of animal rights activism before this movie. But the industry refused to return my emails and phone calls. They had no reason not to speak to me. Now, after its release, they’ve called me a “notorious animal extremist who keeps the company of terrorists.” This is who I’m dealing with.

When Alec Baldwin hosted the premier, the industry’s lobbying firm asked all the city councilmembers to boycott this movie. They know they’ve been exposed.

Even many opponents of the carriages conclude the film by saying they don’t expect action to be taken until a person is killed. How do you think your film addresses public apathy to this issue?

Perhaps this film, which is reaching more people than local activists can reach, perhaps it will generate a critical mass of people to speak out. And educate people to not take these carriage rides. But at the end of the day, the industry is so connected politically that it’s hard to imagine with the current leadership getting this ban to pass. Council Speaker Christine Quinn is absolutely protecting this industry.

Councilmember Tony Avella, who introduced the legislation to ban the industry from the city, says in the film that there is an ingrained financial interest to keeping horses in Central Park. Is this the biggest hurdle to stopping the practice and if so, what can be done about it?

The biggest hurdle to stopping this industry is the fact that they are politically connected. When Quinn or Bloomberg says we need to protect jobs, this is good for tourism, etc., it’s a smokescreen. I think concerned citizens need to continue to contact their councilmember and continue to send letters to Bloomberg. We need to get new leaders in office who are going to operate in a democratic way.

Coalition To Ban
Horse-Drawn Carriages

A Committee of the Coalition For New York City Animals, Inc.

The Coalition for
NYC Animals, Inc.

P.O. Box 20247
Park West Station
New York, NY 10025


To honor
Bobby II Freedom
previously known as Billy
ID# 2873 rescued by the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Equine Advocates on June 25, 2010 from the New Holland auctions.

In memory of
Lilly Rose O'Reilly
previously known
as Dada ID# 2711
R.I.P.August, 2007