The following article is reprinted from the March 2011 issue of Tack'n Togs with permission:

No Ride in the Park

by Jesse R. Bussard

A horse-drawn carriage ride can be an enjoyable, romantic experience for most. Recently though, Lea Michele, a well-known celebrity, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have launched an ad campaign against what they proclaim is unfair treatment of New York City’s carriage horses. The Horse & Carriage Association of New York City responded to this ad as “full of lies” and I couldn’t agree more.

The claims include accusations that the horses are forced to do hard, physical labor all day, seven days a week, no matter the weather conditions. A representative of the Horse & Carriage Association of New York City explained that horses are limited to working nine hours a day, with two shifts running daily, and each horse limited to one shift per day. Horses are also given a five-week break during the year in which they are taken to pastures in the country.

Michele calls the stables “run-down buildings that were never designed to house horses” and makes claims that the horses are “often tied to their troughs.” However, if you were to actually visit one of these stables you would find that the horses are kept in box stalls, are free to move around and are not tied to troughs. Also each stable is equipped with automatic waterers, oscillating fans, sprinkler systems to cool horses on hot summer days, and fully functional fire sprinklers. Carriage horse operations are monitored by five different organizations and can face steep fines if they do not follow state and city regulations for animal welfare.

Let’s remember for one minute the source of these accusations. PETA is an animal rights organization known for always going for the shock and awe factor in its ads and protests. This isn’t the first time that PETA has attacked the horse industry. Recent protests have also focused on rodeo events and even horse racing. In February of 2010, PETA protested the San Antonio Livestock Show & Rodeo. During the 2008 Kentucky Derby, when Eight Belles was euthanized after fracturing both front ankles, PETA attacked the horse racing industry saying “it’s a dirty business and no better than dogfighting.”

It can easily be assumed that if PETA has issues with carriage horses, rodeo events, and horse racing, that it’s only a matter of time until they come after other equine activities. Will they next have a problem with equestrian sports, such as three-day eventing, show jumping, or endurance riding? Each of these events is an example of a situation where a horse is asked to endure dangerous, grueling circumstances. Keep in mind too that PETA is not the only animal rights organization the equine industry has to be concerned about, it’s one of several. It’s only a matter of time until other organizations, such as The Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary, also start stepping up their efforts against the horse industry.

How can you, along with other horse owners, equine organizations, be proactive in dealing with animal rights issues? Education will be a key tool to create awareness of current industry issues, a better understanding of these issues, and a positive public perception of the horse industry. Education, though, will require the cooperation of many different segments and equine disciplines.
While we will always have our differences on certain things, we must always stand united and strong behind the common goal of maintaining the good reputation of the horse industry and letting the general public and lawmakers know that we do indeed have the best interest of our horses in mind with everything we do.

Jesse R. Bussard is a Pennsylvania cowgirl with a degree from Pennsylvania State University in animal science. Currently she is pursuing graduate studies in plant and soil science at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. She is an active advocate for agriculture through social media and her personal blog, Pearl Snaps’ Ponderings (