A Horse of a Different Color: Carriage Horses Are Neither War Horses Nor Work Horses

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.



  1. Geraldine · ·

    Kathy – the Amish NEVER work a carriage, cart, or buggy horse at a CANTER. Never. There horses walk, trot, and/or pace, period.
    Additionally, you never give a hot horse water and then let him stand, unless you are looking to make him sick or kill him.
    People who know nothing about horses holding forth as if they do make me ill.

  2. It is the horse welfare federations that promote the slaughter. They and their friends at the registries such as the Quarter Horse Association, TB Racing Association and all the others that encourage over-breeding for the registration fees that keeps them in business and their paychecks. There will be no help from any of these people.

  3. Kathy · ·

    It’s interesting that the Amish were mentioned in the article on the carriage horses of NYC, that they are the ones who take the horses for slaughter (shielding the owners) and have been known to work their animals to their deaths. While visiting Armish country in PA, I came across one of their wagons. The driver had steered the horse in a situation where the wheel was stuck in a rut. I was shocked and horrified to see this man in his Amish garb whip the poor horse repeatedly until finally a business owner, seeing the abuse, came out and told him to stop while guiding the horse and carriage out of the rut. Also, at the local Walmart in Camden, DE, the store actually put up protective tents for the Amish horses because the Amish would leave their horses in sun in the paved and hot parking lots without water while they shopped with the other Walmart patrons after driving the wagons on the pavement at a swift cantor. Later, I learned that the Amish are one of the largest puppy mill proprietors out there. Maybe they’ll help you put up a barn, but by all means, don’t let them near your animals.

  4. The horse is the most abused domestic animal. Where is the horse welfare federations, associations and councils? They need to step-up and play a role in helping the horse get out of the title of being the most abused domestic animal. The horse needs to be a “priority” in horse welfare!

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