Written By: Heather Clemenceau
Most people who oppose urban carriages are used to being told that they have “limited horse knowledge” or that they don’t live in the country or work with horses, and therefore have no right to render an opinion. But much of the propaganda being churned out in favour of the commercial carriage industry takes the form of attesting to the carriage horses’ overall “happiness” and wonderful working conditions, and this is something we can all fact-check.
The insistence that “horses love to have jobs” is an oft-repeated statement in the carriage trade; I’ve heard it uttered many times in defence of working horses for 8-12 hour days. It’s derivative of the old “christian work ethic,” which every true believer is supposed to apply in the realm of their employment – everyone should work to support themselves and idleness is to be abhorred. For horses and those individuals who used horses for their labour, it would be rare to find evidence of real friendship, because the primary relationship to the horse with an actual job was usually exploitative. It is more accurate to say that horses, because of their compliant nature towards humans, do not actively show aversion to the many things humans ask them to do. They may like interaction with humans very much, but there’s no indication that they “love having jobs.”
A publication by European equitation scientists suggested that, when given the choice, horses prefer not to work at all; in fact, it appears that they’d rather be back in their resting place with their food and equine pals. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to assume that horses might prefer not to have to be bitted for long periods of time either. Some equestrians have found that feeding horses with bits in their mouths may also be a choking hazard, but the bridle, and therefore the bit, can’t be removed from horses while they are put to carriages for safety reasons.
When we keep horses engaged in work or put to a carriage for as long as 8-12 hours, whether we think they like it or not, we overcome horses’ innate responses and thus ignore their behavioural preferences. We need always to bear in mind that its the “tractability” of draft horses in particular that makes them easygoing animals, but that characteristic also makes them vulnerable.
Other people feel that the carriages themselves are at odds with the traffic in an urban environment – which has resulted in sharp, civic discontent in the town of Niagara-On-The-Lake. Horses and cars do not mix well wherever you find them and if there is a collision it is always the horse (and passengers) who will be worse off for it. Most carriage companies typically represent their industry as accident-free or low risk, but even in a quaint town like NOTL that isn’t the case.
Yes, there was a carriage accident in NOTL.
It was reported to the Niagara Regional Police and requested by FOIA. According to the NRP, the horse appears to have been thankfully unhurt. For understandable privacy reasons, the report does not identify any individuals or circumstances of the accident, or whether any charges were laid. The dates in my original FOIA (2014 – 2018 – provide only a 5 year “snapshot” in a 30 year history of carriages in the town), did not cover the exact date of the accident, but my contact at NRP helpfully provided that one was on record in 2013. The incident demonstrates that even with the slow pace in the quaint town of NOTL, accidents with carriages will still occur.