The recent collapse of a carriage horse in Salt Lake City drew criticism from the Humane Society and animal rights supporters. While they might have good intentions, their stated goal of ending urban carriage businesses could doom the horses they want to protect.
These draft animals pull loads during hot and cold weather on paved city streets. They breathe vehicle exhaust fumes and hear loud noises. These factors amount to mistreatment, according to those opposed to city carriage rides.
A hundred years ago, draft horses were much more common than today. Big trucks did not exist. Tractors were new inventions that most people could not afford. Work horses performed most heavy tasks like pulling freight wagons, plowing fields, grading roads, leveling ground, and pulling city carriages. They performed these tasks during all types of weather conditions because there was no alternative. And in many cases, they were better suited to adverse conditions than the humans they helped.
By comparison, pulling carriages in a modern city is easy duty. Anyone with a basic understanding of physics should realize that pulling a wheeled carriage on a smooth street requires less effort than pulling a heavy plow through rocky ground. In fact, it is likely much easier than pulling the same carriage along the rutted, dusty or muddy streets of 100 years ago.
The conversion to a world dominated by the internal combustion engine was not a good thing for draft horses, because it eliminated their purpose and value. Horses that can no longer work are usually not retired to green pastures where they live out their days relaxing, frolicking and eating succulent grass. For work horses, retirement often means slaughter.
Maintaining a draft horse can easily cost several hundred dollars per month. It also requires a great deal of work, effort and concern. When those animals can no longer perform the tasks for which they were born and bred, it simply is not feasible or reasonable to expect someone to maintain them as mere pets.
Compared to a century ago, draft horses today are novelties. Those that remain are generally kept by people using them to pull wagons or carriages for entertainment–type purposes. In some areas of the country draft horses compete in pulling contests at fairs or similar events. It is an amazing sight to see a team of massive, muscled horses strain at their harnesses to pull a sled that weighs thousands of pounds.
Those who have never worked with horses at such tasks likely do not understand that the horses enjoy it. More than that, it is the very reason for their existence.
The people who own and care for these horses do so primarily because of their love for these unique animals. Very few make a living from it and most could earn far more doing something easier. It requires years of dedicated training and care and forges a strong bond between man and beast. It is doubtful someone who has not experienced such a relationship can even comprehend it. As a result, people who devote their lives to draft animals are unlikely to knowingly harm or mistreat them.
In the Salt Lake incident, the horse was diagnosed with colic—a common, but serious digestive ailment that can afflict any horse under any condition. If it struck while the animal was home for the evening no one would even know or care. The animal is reportedly recovering and it is doubtful that any of those critical of the owner (and supposedly concerned about the horse’s condition) are contributing to the veterinary expenses.
Instead of merely casting aspersions, those who sincerely believe these draft animals are being mistreated should buy some land and prepare to take in some giant horses. Because if they are successful in their attempt to ban carriage businesses, there are likely to be some draft horses with nowhere to go. And the alternative for the animals could be more unpleasant than pulling a carriage full of tourists.