Group wants to ban carriage horses in Old Sacramento

Cross-posted from The Sacramento Bee


Horse drawn carriage in Old Sacramento. Photo by Lezlie Sterling for the Sacramento Bee.
Carriage horses in Old Sacramento are made to work in hot temperatures often with no breaks says a local group working to protect them.

They are as much a part of Old Sacramento as cobblestone streets and riverboats.

But the carriage horses that for decades have clopped through Sacramento’s historic downtown district would go the way of the Pony Express if animal activists achieve their goal.

A loosely organized group known as Working Animal Advocates has launched an aggressive campaign to ban the carriages from Old Sacramento, arguing that forcing horses to pull heavy wagons amid traffic, tourists and inclement weather is abusive.

Similar battles are being waged across the country, including in New York City, where Central Park’s iconic carriage horses have become a talking point in the mayoral race.

“This is inherently an inhumane environment for horses,” said Kim Flaherty, a Bay Area activist leading the Old Sacramento campaign. “We understand that the city is trying to capture a historical ambience. But seeing horses working in these conditions is very troubling to me.”

Her group’s campaign includes an online petition drive, picketing in Old Sacramento and letters to public officials. In response, the historic district is working to revise a portion of the city code designed to protect carriage horses.

“The code could use some tweaks,” said district spokeswoman Liz Brenner. “We want to do the right thing, offer the horses an additional measure of comfort,” including more shade and additional breaks.

But Brenner ruled out the idea of banning the carriages altogether. “Over my dead body,” she said. “I won’t let it happen.”

In her corner are organizers of the “Save the Carriage Horses of Old Sacramento” campaign, who also have begun gathering signatures.

“The public loves these horses,” Brenner said. “They are absolutely part of the ambience of Old Sacramento.”

Read more at >>


Too Hot to Trot. St Augustine Fla Carriage Horse Protest. Photo by Rick Wilson.
Heather Fisse-Repole expressed her concern Sunday for the horses who pull carriages around St. Augustine with this sign about the heat index. RICK WILSON/The Times-Union

District woman Brenner sounds like a reasonable person but we shall see. We have encountered this “speak” in many cities where horses draw carriages.

Although tourist cities in Florida, California and Nevada report horses working in hot temperatures for long hours, few breaks and little water, Nashville, Tennessee is one of the worst I have personally witnessed

I happened to have been in Nashville about this time last year during the 100+ temperatures, and saw so many heartbreaking examples of abuse.

The one that stands out most in mind took place downtown about 9 pm. It was still very hot, just under 100 degrees. There was a horse, trying to draw a huge carriage on his own, loaded up with overweight tourists, drunk, shouting, standing up, hanging out of the carriage then being pulled back in (you know the type).

They stopped at a light. When the light changed the load was so heavy, the horse was literally leaping forward trying to get started. Clearly the horse’s efforts were not good or fast enough for the driver, so he began to whip him. The horse tried again, lunging forward with all his might, lathered up and straining.

Horrified, I ran across the traffic to get a picture of the carriage’s license, but when the driver saw me he turned and aimed the whip at me. About that time, the determined little carriage horse had made enough effort he got sustained forward motion going enough to move the carriage across the intersection. All the while this was going on, cars were honking and drivers shouting and waving their fists at me, so at last I got out of the way.

We drove around and around but could not find the horse pulling that carriage so I could get the details and expose this hideous behavior. How I wished the driver had hit me with the whip in front of all those witnesses so I could have had him arrested for assault, and get it on the news. I would have gladly sustained it.

Naturally, we made endless calls. We got the same response as the one Liz Brenner made in her public statement in the Sac Bee article above. Not persuaded, we kept at it.

Our advocates in Nashville reported later that they did not see as many horses out in extreme temperatures as they had, and were recording and alerting authorities about the ones they saw out there. They also noted that some of the drivers were finding shaded areas and giving the horses more water breaks. That is good news.

But all I could wonder is where and how the horse was that I had seen and broken my heart. My experience has been lo these past decades that for every one you see, there are dozens more just like them that you do not.

So if you think people like me are animal extremists because we care about these horses, and at the very least want to get every comfort and assistance provided for them if this outmoded business is going to continue, then think again.

I have to go back to Nashville soon, and you can bet I will be taking a trip downtown, on a mission so better prepared.

In the meantime, I shall sit back and wait for the abusive comments and threatening emails to flow in, just like they always do when we mention carriage horses no matter what the context. This industry has that in common with rodeo people. Now, how about that?

15 thoughts on “Group wants to ban carriage horses in Old Sacramento”

  1. I honor Ms. Farrell’s actions in Tennessee and support her position regarding the carriage horses of Sacramento. When people make their living exploiting horses, they convince themselves that they, along with everyone else in the business, are kind to the animals. They feel threatened when someone reveals the ugly truth that the horses do suffer. Ms. Farrell risked her life dodging traffic in order to secure photographic documentation. She braved a whip aimed at her by the abuser. She did all she could. Blaming her for not actually taking a lashing is reprehensible. Anyone that would beat a struggling horse in full view of the public and then assault a woman that was attempting to document his license is a dangerous person. Other carriage-drivers are probably afraid to turn him in for fear of retaliation. Criticizing Ms. Farrell for not being able to definitively identify the particular horse in question given the numerous outfits operating in the vicinity is unfair. But please note that, following her many phone calls, conditions appeared to improve. As for the Sacramento situation, Ms. Farrell does not need to have first-hand knowledge to report on it. The fact that an advocacy group has formed to protect the horses, and the fact that the historic district’s spokeswoman admits that more shade and additional breaks are warranted — they point to the validity of Ms. Farrell’s position that there is a problem in Sacramento. She was also right in predicting that abusive posts would be forthcoming. Laws are important but enforcement is more important. Police department and animal-welfare units lack the personnel to ensure compliance. It is better to shut down a business-sector whose operations cannot be adequately monitored to prevent abuse to helpless animals. And that includes rodeo, Big Lick, etc.


    1. I agree 100% Marybeth, horses do not belong on busy city streets. I would suggest these carriage drivers get themselves another form of work and donate the overworked horses to a rescue.


    2. Thank you. I did all I could in the middle of a busy intersection, and it all took place within a matter of minutes. It is not like everyone stopped so I could deal with the situation safely and calmly. What is also overlooked is we drove around for a very good while trying to find the horse and carriage and did not find them. Getting the license number was critical and would have meant we could have taken the proper action against the driver. This is the only way to accurately identify a carriage. We had to go by description alone. Also, there were horses being worked in those temperatures all over the area. What about them? People should ask what they would do if they were in the same position.


  2. The group in New York that wants to ban carriage horses have documented horses being killed by cars or trucks hitting them. What about the noise, fumes the horses have to be exposed to all day with no let up? On top of that most if not all are stabled in old firetrap tenement buildings with more that one floor that the horses have to make their way up to every night. The stalls are to narrow for the animals to lay down to rest. What this group wants to do is replace the carriages with vintage cars. I like that idea, at least the horses would be out of the roar of fire trucks, police sirens, buses belching black smoke. It’s not the 1920s, the traffic in all of the large cities is so bad now that its no place for a horse to be exposed to it, the din of traffic that never ceases. As far as I’m concerned the vintage cars would be a eye catcher and the heat, cold and noise wouldn’t bother them.


  3. Yep, it’s putting money where your mouth is. If you want changes to made to the industry, you must help them not just criticize them and expect them to police themselves. This is where getting the ENFORCERS, police, animal control the staff and education they need to prosecute the offenders comes in. It’s not a one solution issue, remember it takes a village to make a better world. If I’m competing with other taxi drivers, I’m supposed to be a vigilante and run down the cheaters, no, but I can report it to the authorities. Now if someone is beating a horse in front of me, I’ll damn sure take photo’s, stay there on the 911 phone call, track the b turd down from safe distance, get license #, etc, enough documentation that the authorities can actually do something. I worked for years as a legal investigator/prosecutor. Must have evidence to get something done. So, as with any world problem, improvements must be made from many different angles not just the easy one, shut ’em all down. Well I guess you won’t be driving anywhere anymore, cuz someone got a drunk driving ticket. Take away all the cars….


  4. To the author: So, basically, you did nothing to stop this man from continuing to beat this poor horse? He pointed his whip at you?? So what? You say that you would have “gladly sustained it” but you didn’t! He was beating this horse who was obviously exhausted and struggling to move — pure and blatant animal abuse and you did nothing to stop him! You let him go and made phone calls, which did nothing for this poor horse who is most likely still being beaten! You went on your way and “lost” the horse you’d been watching. Seriously?!! The tourists who allowed this were just as guilty as the horse’s owner.


  5. I understand people without equine education and experience would be upset seeing carriage horses work period, but what you describe with the whip and the horse is indeed cruelty and I would have reported this driver as well. Someone would know who he was just in the description of the horse and carriage. I beg you to follow thru even today with your complaint. It’s drivers and owners such as these that give the carriage industry a horrid name.

    There are strict carriage rules in most cities and if those operators are not following those rules whether because of greed and lack of common sense, they should be ticketed and the drivers fired. Perhaps there’s not enough staff to enforce these rules. There’s also common sense answers to your complaints.

    Disallow the lighter horses to do the work of a draft horse; although basic physics when applied to the horse and carriage proves the horse “pushes” the carriage with his shoulders into the collar with much more ease that it seems. Make it mandatory the horses wear collars and hames instead of the cheaper two seater cart style or “buggy harness” often seen as it’s not ideal at all for the weight of a 1000 pound carriage and 7 passengers.

    Please don’t say things like “this group” or “these people” when categorizing carriage owners and operators. I’ve been educating the public about harnessing and draft horses and funding equine rescue and therapeutic riding with horse drawn work for the past 13 years in Central Florida as a volunteer based charity; doing such work as weddings, hay rides and funerals but with draft horses instead of light horses. Most of us treat our horses with the utmost care and consideration – often better than we treat ourselves. I don’t work without breaks, a canopy for protection from the Florida weather and water readily available and if those things are not in place, we don’t accept the job.

    There will always be the “bad apples” that ruin it for all the others in anything one can choose to do. I would rather our working draft horses work pleasure jobs than farm 8 hours a day and work is what the draft horse was bred to do. All horses are happier with jobs to do instead of standing around in the hot sun at home.

    Clairese Yuhasz Austin, Founder & Executive Director of HorseSisters.


    1. Maybe it is time for people who work in these industries to step up and tell the offenders that what they are doing is not acceptable instead of leaving it up to elected officials who do not have the knowledge you have and never will. You can do this.

      If you do not have an association of carriage horse drivers, then form one, and put together a code of conduct. Many cities have drivers who have done this. When regulations are enacted by city governments regarding carriage horses, a lot of what ends up getting passed is already being done voluntarily. Be proactive instead of reactive. Show that you mean business… good business.

      Good carriage horse drivers who see others carrying out the types of abuses I have sadly seen in cities across the country should not be allowing it: speak up. Some I have spoken with have told me they want to but are scared. If they continue to fail to take action, and abuses go on, then you will continue to have people getting together and trying to ban it outright, no questions asked.

      The horse in question in Nashville … this was a tragic example no doubt. However, as we drove around looking for him, we counted more than a dozen carriages horses working and that of course was not all of them. So in the case of Nashville in June of last year, it was not an isolated case of one or even two “bad apples”.


    2. AMEN! Well said by a voice of reason Clairese!. We know that many people make a living off of horses. What about the race horse, rodeo and “Big Lick” soring show horse abusers and horse over breeders dumping entire herds into the slaughter pipeline?. Think it’s realistic to shut down those venues too just because there are horse abusers? That approach means because one driver caused an accident because of road rage or DUII, nobody can drive. This is what turns people off to any activist’s cause, the all or nothing approach. This is why they label activits CRAZY. We must work with logic to improve horse conditions. We must work even harder to punish horse abuser that break animal cruelty laws every day, and are still getting away with it. Enforcement is what is needed and that, my fellow equine lover, is definitely an area where we can make some tremendous progress by utilizing networking, petitions, rallies, news coverage, etc. Carry on Horse Warriors!


  6. I don’t want the horse drawn carriage industry totally banned but I do want to see “Humane” guidelines established for rest/shade/food and water breaks and even stiffer penalties for abusers. I personally met some of Sacto’s horse drawn carriage operators and they are not in the abuser category by a long shot. They are caring, horse loving individuals that work very long hours to ensure their horses are treated like gold! After all, their livelihoods depend upon it. They enjoy sharing their love of horses and the history of Sacramento with tourists. Now, I have witnessed abuse in New York city and several other tourist towns in the South, but not all horse carriage operators are in the abuse category. I agree that the industry needs strict guidelines set and ENFORCED! Moderation, common or horse sense should guide the rules! For example, not all endurance riders, barrel racers, team ropers, team penners, reining competitors, show horses owners, etc are kind to their horses either, but we don’t condemn the whole sport because some horse owners are ignorant jerks!


    1. There was a time, long long ago (in my youth) that industries used to police themselves. Cheaters, abusers, druggers etc were “run out” of the different industries or disciplines by the participants themselves, by whatever means necessary, but it was pretty easy to freeze out those with unacceptable practices.

      Those times were a lot better for the horses. Now people look the other way; don’t want to get involved. In cases of competition, if they see someone winning by cheating, abusing, drugging etc they think they have to do it too, to make it a “level playing field” and they think absolutely nothing of it.

      I cannot comment on the Old Sacramento drivers because I have not been there personally. However, do not be fooled. Plenty of people whose livelihoods depend on their horses treat them inhumanely, run them into the ground, then simply dump them and get another one. So I am sorry, but that is a false argument trotted out on a regular basis. The whole time of course they say how much they love them.


      1. Talk to Jerry Bestpitch, my Sacramento based friend (is on FB), who also has work horses for cowboy western adventures, trail rides, pioneer trail rides, and is an advocate for horses on many fronts including serving on the Sacramento Frontier Days Board, establishing safe horse trails through out the city, etc. He, personally knows the Sacto carriage operators and believe me would do something drastic if he saw abuse. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch and as you said, you have no verifiable facts to base an opinion about the Sacto carriage drivers. Reason, logic and reality must rule here. I am not being fooled and we should not fool the public either. If you have facts fine, but until then let’s not run down hard working horse folks that do run a safe operation. Just because my neighbour abuses horses doesn’t mean that I do.


        1. Who is running down hard working horse folks running a safe operation? That’s what horse racing people say about their industry, that they don’t do it, and it’s only a few trainers. And they do nothing to clean it up. That is not going to wash with us, or anyone else who cares about the proper handling of horses, no matter what they are using them for.

          If a neighbor abuses their horses that doesn’t mean you do. I get that. But if a person knows it is going on, and does nothing about it, what does it make that person? These are hard questions, but someone must ask them on behalf of these horses. And that’s what we do.

          Do we say, oh well, not all of them are abusive, so the carriage horse business is okay and we will just let them get on with it and do nothing to help the horses who do suffer at the hands of cruel, irresponsible drivers? I think not.


        2. And I ain’t nobodies fool! Going off half cocked is what get’s yourself and your cause shot in the foot!


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