When I was young, I always dreamed of riding on a horse-drawn carriage through NYC. It was such an overly-romanticised idea that was irresistible to even the most cynical of people. Strangely, it was while watching the episode of Seinfeld wherein Kramer looked after one of these horses that I began to question the ethics of such a practice. It was an odd notion to me at 8yrs old to view an animal as a vehicle, let alone one that was expected to compete with cars, buses, trucks etc. on busy city roads.
Yesterday this video emerged of a horse that collapsed on the streets of Melbourne. The person who captured the video alleged that the horse collapsed due to dehydration, which would seem a more than likely scenario. Though, the owner, Dean Crichton, from Unique Carriage Hire, has since threatened that they’re considering legal action against the Melbourne teen, claiming that the horse was not dehydrated. Regardless, the scene was a horrid sight. The video did not go viral because of the concerned teen’s assumption that the horse was dehydrated, it went viral because it was a wake-up call to Australians that a most-likely terrified horse was helplessly collapsed in the street, surrounded by cars and people.
Somehow this is still an acceptable and apparently lucrative practice. Perhaps it is the lack of knowledge that leads people to believe that this is an acceptable practice, but most likely it is due to their cognitive dissonance. We’ve learned to live with the idea that animals are nothing more than tools, food, entertainment, etc. but isn’t there something wonderful in the idea of evolving beyond this? Imagine a horse in the wild – in its natural environment, roaming free. Now imagine a horse, battling traffic, breathing toxic fumes, braving the scorching heat with no respite and hauling heavy loads every single day. And for what? For a moment of perceived joy in some person’s life. I would wager that most who choose to pay for the trip wouldn’t do it twice for sheer lack of interest and would enjoy the journey for perceived nostalgic purposes only.
The above is devastating to me. The footage, even more painful. But what is confusing is that not everyone feels this way, and that people still continue to legally use these old-fashioned gimmicks in the streets of Melbourne. Aren’t we better than this? In an age when we are finally starting to collectively understand the cruelty involved in greyhound and horse racing, how are we not aware of the impact that pulling a heavy cart on asphalt has on horses?
Aside from the actual car vs. horse accidents that occur, the day-to-day damage to these horses is undeniable. Their legs suffer from beating the asphalt each day. It is painful and dangerous, because once their legs give out, they are deemed permanently useless.
Then of course there’s the impact on their lungs. Imagine having to walk through traffic day-in, day-out. How do you think your lungs would handle the fumes? We barely keep our windows down in traffic due to the overwhelming toxicity of petrol fumes – how we expect these gentle giants to deal with it is beyond comprehension.
In some instances, (and perhaps narrowly avoided yesterday), horses have dropped dead from heatstroke after working in harsh heat and humidity.
Many claim that the drivers of these cruel modes of transport “love and respect” these animals. I greatly beg to differ. In an article about a horse that had the carriage collapse on it when it was spooked in Manhattan traffic, the driver openly blames the horse and offered it no care or concern. To add insult to the horse’s (literal) injury, the driver was witnessed “shouting at the horse” before the crash. One witness said “it looked like the driver was having a fit. He was screaming. He couldn’t control the horse,” So much for love and respect.
Perhaps it’s years of conditioning – being immersed in a society where we believe that horses belong in saddles and bridles. But if you think back to what a horse is supposed to be; a gentle, free, wild beast, it is absolutely heartbreaking to juxtapose this image with what a horse is to us now.
You can take action now by signing this petition and/or joining the ‘March for the horses‘ on October 9th, 12:30pm-2:30pm at Bourke St Mall, Melbourne. If you’re a Melbourne local, it’s worth following the page Melbourne Against Horse-Drawn Carriages. You can also take a stand by boycotting this cruel and outdated practice and urging others to follow suit.
UPDATE: the teen who posted the video has apologised for the “misrepresentation” after being threatened with legal action. Somehow people view this as vindication for the carriage owner, rather than a pressured apology. Regardless of how or why the horse fell – whether it was a bite from another horse, dehydration or being spooked – people were still outraged to see this beautiful beast collapsed in the street because it simply did not belong there. Taking this post at face value is naive, just as it is naive to take the word of carriage drivers as gospel. Of course they’re defending the way they treat their horses, but that’s not the issue. Using them to fight traffic every day is, in my opinion, careless and vile. If you are curious about whether this is an ethical practice or not, don’t take anyone’s word for it, do a quick Google search. What you see might hurt you more than you think.