The enduring horse and carriage industry: Saddled with controversy

Madeleine Delp Bergsjø

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Kevin Keller - Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø
Kevin Keller harnessing Del-Boy in the alleyway outside the stables in Molyneaux Place – Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø

The horse and carriage industry in New York City has become a political battleground. In Dublin, there are less rules and regulations, but no prominent debate on the issue. Owner of the stables in Molyneaux Place, Kevin Keller, is worried about the afterlife if a ban would be forced upon the industry, but stands firm in his case: They are not abusing the animals.

In 2015, frail horse legs are still pounding the hard asphalt through heavy traffic, every day, all year around. Under the slogan “we go where the buses don’t!”, about 40 horses remain to live their whole lives inhaling exhaust fumes, dodging cars and buses, far away from green, quiet pastures.

Read “The enduring horse and carriage industry: An asphalt paved death sentence” here.

Activists wanting to end the business contributed more than 1.3 million dollars to help elect mayor Bill de Blasio. The Horse and Carriage Association of New York is fighting for survival following the mayor’s promise to ban the industry. As a response to the alleged misinformation spread by animal-rights anti-carriage-horse groups, equestrians created ClipClopNYC to teach the public the truth about the working horses of New York City, inviting anyone interested into the stables.

Despite the allegations, veterinarian and past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, Dr. Harry Werner, told the New York Times that he found no evidence of inhumane conditions, neglect or cruelty, only contented horses in a safe environment. Steven Malone, a spokesman for the Horse and Carriage Association, invites skeptics in to solidify the industry’s place in the city. To New York Daily News, he said that “all horses should be as lucky to have owners and a facility as nice as this. It’s not an environment that’s cruel to horses, it’s people who are cruel to horses. People this good deserve to stay in the business”.

Keller in one of the stables in Molyneaux Place - Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø
Inside the stables in Molyneaux Place: “We leave the cobwebs to keep the flies away” – Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø

The carriage horses of Manhattan get a minimum of five mandated vacation weeks on a farm every year. Since 2010, the New York City Council have enacted to increase the carriage drivers’ wages and improve the horses’ working conditions. The legislation prohibits the drivers to make the horses work in temperatures below -8 degrees and above +32 degrees.

It also requires the stalls to be at least 60 square feet big. There are four carriage horse stables in Manhattan, each one regularly inspected and checked by veterinarians. Horses stabled on floors above ground, like true New Yorkers, have caused accusations of the stables being fire traps. Inspections show that all the stables, built in the late 19th century, have sprinklers, fans and water hoses installed as well as stablemen making sure the horses are never left unattended.

The standard is a little lower in Dublin. Here, there are no colorful bridle plumes or drivers with top hats on polished carriages, but a group of committed drivers and their faithful horses in worn harnesses. Kevin Keller, the owner of the stables in Molyneaux Place, has had horses in the family all his life, working with both coal and timber before entering the busy streets on wheels.

Del-Boy pacing the streets - Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø
Del-Boy pacing the streets an early November morning last year – Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø

Irish carriage drivers have to have separate licenses for the driver, the horse and the carriage, a public liability insurance and both the horse and the carriage is checked every year by Dublin City Council. But there is no legislation on safety and animal welfare, other than yearly visits by veterinarians making sure the stables are big enough for the horses to lay down in.

The horses are kept behind locked garage doors in the hidden alleyway at night, so Keller makes sure to have someone close by with access to the premises. Most, but not all, stables around the city have people who could save the horses and valuable carriages if anything would happen, but there are no security systems like in New York City. And no law enforced vacation for the hard working horses.

“They have to get out for a rest for one or two months every year. There used to be a place where we left them around the DSPCA (Dublin Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in Rathfarnham, but we don’t have that anymore. And at the moment we are actually trying to get back on board with them, they used to give us so many acres every year and they charged us a very small fee. Because it’s not there anymore, we have to look for farmers that are generous enough to loan it to us”, says Keller.

Del-Boy on the corner of Stephens Green - Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø
Del-Boy waiting for customers on the corner of St. Stephens Green – Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø

“For a lot of us that drive the horse and carriages here, it is a part time job but also something that we enjoy doing”, Keller says, throwing a thick blanket over Del-Boy’s back. They’ve just come back from taking a couple of tourists on a thirty minute sightseeing tour. “Horses don’t belong in the city”, says a woman walking past the parked carriages on the corner of St. Stephens Green, just loud enough for Kevin to hear.

Animal rights activists want to ban the carriage industry because of the health issues and accident risk it brings to the horses, but people who want to save the industry are concerned with the future of both the carriage horses and their drivers if a ban were to be forced upon them.

“What would you say to the activists trying to get the industry banned?”

“Well, what did they use before cars came into action? They used horse drawn carriages for transport, for bringing people around and for delivering milk, coal, bread. Horses were used before any sort of engines. They fought wars on their backs! Horses were used long before these activists came on board. If you go back through the history books, horses were used for everything, really”, Keller says.

Inside the stables in Molyneaux Place - Photo by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø
Keller inside the stables in Molyneaux Place – Photos by Madeleine Delp Bergsjø

If only the horses could talk. The industry is often accused of abusing the animals, forcing them to work in dangerous and unhealthy circumstances. Kevin Keller can not understand why people complain about the industry, claiming they never overload the carriages or work the horses too hard. He adjusts the blanket on Del-Boy’s back, making sure he stays warm while waiting for their next customers. On question about what would happen if a ban would be forced upon the industry, he answers:

“I don’t know what we would do, we would probably have to put the horses out to early retirement and retire ourselves”.

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Madeleine Delp Bergsjø