Expert Opinion

Letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYC Council
Holly Cheever, D.V.M. - January 16, 2006

Voorheesville, NY 12186

January 16, 2006

Michael Bloomberg
Mayor of New York City
City Hall
NY, NY 10007

NYC Council
250 Broadway
NY, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg and Members of the City Council:

RE: Carriage Horse Abuse

As a result of the recent tragedy in which a panicked carriage horse bolted in New York City traffic and was struck by a motor vehicle, resulting in his euthanasia, I would like to request that your office and the City Council revisit the question of whether carriage horses belong in New York City’s busy urban streets.  To introduce myself, I am an equine veterinarian, educated at Harvard University and at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell, with a lifetime of experience in horse management, including the driving of carriage horses.  Since 1988, I have been the primary equine advisor for 2 states and, to date, 18 municipalities (including New York) that have sought knowledgeable assistance either to ban carriage horses from operating in their cities or to devise protective codes and legislation to prevent the all-too-common animal abuse that occurs in this industry. In particular, I was very involved with the campaign initiated by the American Society for the Protection of Animals and the New York-based Carriage Horse Action Committee between 1988 and 1996, calling for a ban of the use of carriage horses on NYC streets.

To begin with, I would like to state unequivocally that I don't believe that horse-drawn carriages and motor vehicles should share the same roadways due to the distressing history of injuries and deaths (both equine and human) that have occurred across the country due to carriage-car collisions.  There is no way that cities with their exhaust fumes, hard road surfaces, and busy traffic patterns can provide a humane (as opposed to merely survivable) environment for a carriage horse. For that reason, I always recommend that an urban ban against city carriage horse rides be implemented, unless the horses can be restricted to a park or other area where they will not be competing with motor vehicles for road space.  If a ban is not possible due to the tenacity of an entrenched tourist industry, then detailed protective regulations and the ability to enforce them are essential.  In the case of New York, the only safe place for this tourist attraction would be to restrict them to Central Park. Realistically, the Commissioner of the Park has always expressed adamant opposition to this plan, so I would prefer by far to see a complete ban due to New York’s dense population, busy traffic patterns, climate, and the high-rise corridors in Manhattan that exacerbate these health and safety hazards.

When reviewing the status of an urban carriage horse trade, one must remember that these animals are frequently not in the best of condition, nor are they always handled by the most knowledgeable horsemen/women.   Expert carriage drivers who drive as a vocation or for the love of their animals are not the ones who are involved in these urban carriage tourist trades.  A topnotch breeder/driver would NEVER subject their prized animals to these conditions:  I can furnish names upon request of driving and show judging horse experts who would agree emphatically with this statement.

New York City has inherent characteristics that make the safe handling of urban carriage horses impossible. They are exposed to such health hazards as:

#1 RESPIRATORY DISEASE:  horses working in traffic lanes are constantly nose-to-tailpipe, and show corresponding respiratory impairment (please note the enclosed discussion of Dr. Roszel's study of New York City’s carriage horses and their respiratory problems).

#2 LAMENESS is a major problem for horses who must pound the city streets' unnaturally hard, concussive surfaces, especially since the majority are not given adequate farrier care and since many horses come into this industry with preexisting injuries or arthritis incurred in their previous uses on race tracks or Amish farms.

#3 HEAT PROSTRATION is seen in many cities in the northern temperate zone and has been the leading cause of death in the carriage horse populations of New York, Atlanta, and Boston.  Please note the enclosures that explain this problem. Signs of imminent heat stress include flared nostrils, brick-red mucous membranes, trembling, and a lack of sweat production on a hot day.  Horses should be kept off the streets when the combined temperature-humidity index (the THI discussed in the enclosures) exceeds 140; as the THI increases, so does their risk for heat stress.  Since New York City's asphalt surfaces have reached temperatures of 200 degrees Fahrenheit as reported in the New York Times, keeping horses sufficiently cool on hot summer days becomes impossible.

The issue of safe temperature ranges for the horses is typically the most contentious problem for city councils in devising adequate protection for them. In the critical temperature range of 89 to 96 degrees Fahrenheit, a large horse, particularly one of the draft breeds, is greatly challenged in its ability to dissipate its body heat into an increasingly warm environment, especially if high humidity is a factor.  A horse can lose 8-10 gallons of fluid with exercise in a hot environment, but if the air is saturated by high humidity, cooling by evaporation cannot occur.  If the horse is dehydrated and cannot produce sweat, anhydrosis ensues and can be life-threatening.  This particular temperature is in a very sensitive danger range for working horses--please remember that the temperature must be recorded at ground level to determine the exact environment that the horse is encountering ( the temperature as recorded by the U.S. Weather Bureau is taken typically from a site well above ground level—please note the Cornell Horticulture study).I recommend a top value of 89 degrees F. in humid environments, and can produce equine physiologists and published articles discussing safe ranges for the prevention of heat prostration. New York’s top temperature of 90 degrees F., coupled with its high humidity in the summer, pose a definite threat to carriage horse health and safety.

The low end of the scale should include a wind chill factor for the obvious reason that all mammals are more susceptible to hypothermia when wind chill is present. As mentioned, not all horses in the typical urban carriage horse trade are in “mint condition”, and thus should not be outdoors below a safe limit of 26 degrees F. with the wind chill, and would require the use of blankets below 32 degrees F. when standing. I am concerned that New York’s bottom limit of 18 degrees F. is too low, and I doubt these horses are all blanketed in such temperatures.

Practically speaking, since New York City has many days per annum in which the temperature/humidity is either too high or too low for the horses’ safety, a ban altogether is preferable to a burdensome system attempting to regulate when the horses must be removed from the streets.

#4 "SPOOKING" can happen to even the best trained and well-mannered horse.  Their evolution as herbivores (i.e. prey animals) has conditioned them to bolt first and consider the situation later, dictating the need for the driver to be constantly in contact with the horse's head, whether by holding the reins securely from the carriage box or by standing at the horse's head with the reins in hand.  The driver must also learn to anticipate potentially threatening stimuli in order to control the horse before it attempts to flee in panic, which is unlikely when the drivers are novices. I have heard New York carriage owners/drivers claim repeatedly that their horses are “spook-proof”—there is no such thing. As you can well imagine and have witnessed recently, the potential for injury is enormous and represents an extreme liability risk for the City as the licensing agent.

            During the several years that I inspected New York’s carriage horses on the street and in their stables at the request of the ASPCA and the Carriage Horse Action Committee, I noted repeated violations of basic humane equine husbandry and care principles, as follows:

  • The horses were not given adequate water during their work shifts since no public water is readily available to them, and most were denied the basic presence of water buckets in their stalls.
  • Many horses were afforded inadequate hoof care and shoeing,  adding to their likelihood of developing or exacerbating lameness.
  • The stables were distressingly inadequate, with poor hygiene, temperature control, and ventilation. Also, most horses were confined to tie stalls rather than to box stalls, which means that their entire lives as NY City carriage horses keeps them restricted to narrow spaces—between the carriage shafts while working and between their stall walls when resting, with never a chance to turn around comfortably or roll or scratch their itching hides after the harness is removed. Bedding was nonexistent or grossly inadequate.
  • Many showed harness sores that should require them to be removed from work till healed; however, there was never sufficient enforcement of this precept, and many horses worked with infected and inflamed sores.
  • No opportunity for “turn-out” was provided since there is no room for such a space in the stable areas. Therefore, the horses had no opportunity to perform natural movements or experience normal socialization, so necessary for a herd animal, for their entire lives in this industry.

If I may be of any assistance in trying to remove and save these horses from their  inherently hostile (to an equine) urban environment, please do not hesitate to call me.   Thank you for your attention in this matter.


Holly Cheever, DVM

Return to
Expert Opinion

Fair Use Notice: This document may contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owners. We believe that this not-for-profit, educational use on the Web constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material (as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law). If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.