Posted on May 20, 2012 by Elizabeth Forel: President, Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
Horses have always been the innocent victims – whether taken to war without a choice and worked to death; or used in rodeos, horse racing or New York City’s inhumane horse-drawn carriage industry.
Sad history – In the age before the automobile, horses were notoriously overworked, and many died in the streets. In NYC, they pulled wagons loaded with people and goods, and they served as the power for the City’s street trolley system. Between 100,000 and 200,000 horses lived in the city at the turn of the century. Many were literally worked to death — their carcasses left on the street waiting for the street cleaners. From an article by Joel A. Tarr in American Heritage Magazine – Urban Pollution – many long years ago “The average streetcar nag had a life expectancy of barely two years, and it was a common sight to see drivers and teamsters savagely lashing their overburdened animals. The mistreatment of city horses was a key factor in moving Henry Bergh to found the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866.”
Steven Spielberg’s film War Horse gave me new insight into what the term “work horse” and “war horse” really meant. During World War I, horses were transported via rail to New York City to be shipped to Europe for use in the war. They pulled cannons, trucks and ambulances and were literally worked till they dropped in the ravages of war and hand-to-hand combat. Hundreds of thousands of horses did not make it out alive, dying from artillery fire, starvation and disease. With the end of the war, and with increased mechanization in the 20th century, the need for draft horses declined. Many of these horses were sold to slaughter.