Of Horse

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Are Sleighs and Carriages Safe for Horses?
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Are Sleighs and Carriages Safe for Horses?

The fast approaching winter season will bring with it thoughts of hot chocolate and sleigh rides. Many farms across the United States advertise traditional sleigh rides during the months of December, January and February. Currier and Ives, successful American printmakers, boast beautiful prints of winter sleigh rides. One of the most popular American songs during the Christmas holidays is "Jingle Bells." The song was written by James Pierpont from Medford, Massachusetts in 1850. The theme of the song was inspired by the one-horse open sleigh races on Salem and Pleasant Streets. People with a love for horses should be asking the question, “Are sleighs and carriages safe for horses?”

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, believes that it is cruel to hitch a horse to a sleigh or carriage. PETA believes that forcing animals to carry oversized loads in extreme weather conditions qualifies as animal abuse. Furthermore, the agency believes that exhaust fumes inhaled by horses pulling carriages in urban areas often results in respiratory ailments. Walking on hard pavement adversely affects a horse’s legs. The group is requesting a ban on horse drawn carriages in cities, as it is an accident waiting to happen. PETA further declares that retired horses are shipped to slaughter houses.

According to an article posted on Equiculture, retired carriage and sleigh horses are maintained on the owner’s property or sent to retirement facilities such as Blue Star Equiculture. The expected career span of a carriage or sleigh horse is 10 to 15 years. Horses regulate body temperature by growing thick coats in the winter and perspiring in the summer. Regulations are in place in most cities concerning extreme weather conditions for horse drawn carriages. Carriage horses are an investment and companion for the owner; therefore, owners feed and water the horses well.

The average carriage or sleigh horse weighs from 1200 to 1800 pounds. This type of horse can pull 2 to 3 times it's body weight. The carriage or sleigh can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, add a few people, and the horse can easily pull a carriage or sleigh with a load of people. 

Tally-Ho Carriage Tours states that professional farriers mount protective horse shoes that reduce the risk of injury to horses. The tour group believes the zero respiratory illness rates for Tally-Ho is due to low pollution levels in the area. City regulations generally restrict carriage companies from operating in high traffic areas. Horses owned by the tour group excitedly meet staff at the gate each morning eager to be selected for the day.


There is a disagreement between carriage owners and PETA. I have done my best to represent the two sides in this article. God has blessed humans with common sense and granted humans dominion over animals; this dominion includes the protection of animals. What are your thoughts? Please include links in your answer if possible. Thank you!


Photo is courtesy of Sleigh Ride as uploaded by Martin Cathrae from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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  1. PonyGirl
    I've been researching the NYC carriage horse controversy for a couple of years now. I wrote a blog on it here on OfHorse. Since then, I have learned a great deal about the issue. So let me answer PETA's accusations. In the first place, it is very difficult to "force" a horse to pull a carriage or sleigh. Just look on YouTube for videos of what happens to the carriages with horses who object to pulling them. Hint: The carriages always lose. The carriages are not "oversize loads." If a horse is straining, his body is leaned forward in the traces. Look at the horses in pulling contests. Their body language is completely different than a horse's pulling a carriage. The carriages can easily be moved by a person. I know this from personal experience (I have a friend who has a small carriage business in Louisiana where I live.), and from pictures and videos of the NYC carriage horses. PETA quotes the "extreme weather conditions" about the NYC horses who by law are not allowed to work in temperatures above 89 degrees or below 19 degrees F. They also are prohibited from working in snow, ice, heavy rain, or other slippery conditions. So obviously the horses are not in fact working in any type of "extreme" weather conditions. So in the first sentence attributed to PETA, there are 3 inaccuracies. The language is emotional rather than factual. Representatives from the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) went to NYC and inspected the stables. They found a much lower percentage of respiratory problems among the carriage horses than is normally found in stabled riding horses. The NYC horses have mandatory twice-yearly vet exams with the findings clearly listed on each horse's stall. If there were the problems that PETA claims there are, they should have statistical numbers not just vague accusations. Walking on asphalt (not pavement) does not damage horses legs. Running on hard surfaces is hard on horse's legs due to the concussion issues. There are not concussion issues when walking or doing a small amount of trotting. Again, if there were actual problems, they would be very easy to document, both from the vet reports on the NYC horses and on visual examination. In all my research, I have seen no such documentation. Since this controversy has heated up in the last two years a large number of independent veterinarians, equine rescue owner/operators, horse behaviorist and other knowledgeable horsemen-and-women have been to the stables and seen for the horses for themselves. They have unanimously declared the horses to be healthy, content, and well-cared for. The NYC horses are supported by the AAEP and the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), as well as the New York State Horse Council, among others. None of these organizations would support any type of animal abuse. Most of this information can be found on line. One very good source for the facts on this issue is Bedlam Farm Journal by Jon Katz. He is an author and former investigative reporter and has been to NYC numerous times to see the horses and talk to the drivers and owners. There are also many links to newspaper and journal stories in any of the facebook pages dedicated to keeping the NYC horses in NY. The New York Times and the New York Daily News ran several stories about the horses. I'm sorry I can't be more specific on the sources- I've probably read over a hundred articles in the last couple of years. If you're interested in anything specific, let me know and I may be able to find my original sources. The blog I wrote here is simply titled "The New York City Carriage Horse Controversy" from January 27, 2014. I enjoyed your article and will be reading the rest of your blogs on my next day off.
    1. Tenneyson
      Pony Girl, my information is in agreement with your findings also. In writing this article, I was simply trying to express both sides of the argument. Thanks for your comment! You were very thorough! I will look forward to hearing further from you in the future.

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