Cross-posted from The Sacramento Bee
WRITTEN BY CYNTHIA HUBERT
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 SacBee.com >>
TOO HOT TO TROT
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?