Common Sense And The New York Carriage Horses
"…I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense…" – Thomas Paine, Common Sense.
I believe that the sun has never shined on a cause of greater worth or justice than that of the New York Carriage Horses.
I hear it said that Americans are bitterly divided, so mired in the narrow labels of the left and the right that our political system can no longer function, that it is no longer possible to bring common sense to bear on the issues of our time or to resolve them. It sometimes seems that we have forgotten how to argue in a civil way, change our minds, or listen to one another.
But look at what the carriage horses have done:
In one of the most diverse and fractious cities in the world, they have brought together the left and the right, the business owners and the workers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Teamsters, movie stars and writers. They have united the Jews and Catholics and Latinos, the Irish and The Russians and Ukrainians, the New York Times and the New York Post, the tourists and the commuters honking in their cars, the young and the old, the truly progressive and the sincerely conservative.
They have sent the mayor and his horse ban packing, mumbling vague promises to come and fight again. Not too many people believe him, he may be an ideologue but he is not believed to be a masochist. This is the battle of Bull Run for the animal world, one of the first great battleground in the war over animals. The horses took the day, this weekend was a rout for them.
We owe them again. They remind us that truth still matters and that there is such a thing as right and wrong and that people care about both.
Left outside of this remarkable happening are the stunned and pouting accusers, the eternal shouters and harassers, rigid and unyielding, spewing anger, threats, lies and warnings of retribution on their seething websites. They profess great compassion for animals, but practice the worst cruelty and abuse upon human beings. They claim to be liberal in their thinking but they don't seem to know what that means, they reject the very nature of democracy just as they unknowingly trumpet their ignorance of horses and the real lives of animals.
They claim to be righteous but today, they mostly seem clueless, left to fume with their cruelty-free, eco-friendly, fake vintage, $160,000 electric cars, the ones nobody wants to drive or ride in.
The horses have done the impossible, a few months ago, the unthinkable. New York City was blind, but can now see, so can so many of the rest of us.
Those of us who stand with the horses are different in many ways, the same in many ways.
We argue for the right of hard-working, law-abiding people to live their lives in freedom and safety, protected from attack by hurtful people who are called activists and from excessive government power. We want animals to remain in our lives and in the world. If there is such a thing as truth, there is such a thing as fairness. Both have suffered in the conflict over the carriage horses.
That is common sense, that is what Thomas Paine was writing about so many years ago, it is just as stirring and true today.
Perhaps the greatest irony in this story is that the working-class people of the carriage trade seemed unable to speak for themselves for so long in the face of such an onslaught; it seemed that the horses ended up speaking for them.
Paine has always inspired my writing and journalism. I thought of him the very first day I began writing about the carriage horses. What I was seeing made no sense to me, it was an injustice. People who loved their horses, treated them well, broke no laws, played by every rule were subjected to years of unrelenting harassment and abuse, the loss of their traditions, heritage, livelihood, the loss of their freedom to live as they chose to live. Paine would have pitched a tent at the stable door. Abuse of authority doesn't have a label, it has always haunted the lives of free people seeking a way of life.
True character is at the heart of this conflict, the character of animals, the character of people, the future of animals and people together. They will either remain in our lives, or vanish from the world. Either we want them in our lives or we don't. Either we treat animals and people with compassion or we will to do right by either. It makes no sense to save them by driving them to invisible and hidden preserves, where they will never be seen or thought of again. It makes no sense to claim to love animals and use them to hate people.
This painful controversy is about so much more than the horses, they are the spirits that draw us together and remind us of what it means to live on the earth and be human. The horses have brought us together, shown us the way. This is not the affair of a city, or a county, or a state. It speaks to a way of life, of being, of honor, character and dignity. And the real rights of animals.
The carriage horse conflict is about maintaining the private and cherished and ancient bonds that exist between human beings and the animals that have helped us create our world, nourished and protected us, given us love and companionship. There is much talk in New York about what we need to do for animals, there is so little about what they have done and do for us.
The carriage horse conflict is not the concern of the day, a year, or an age; posterity is vitally involved in this contest. People and animals will be affected, even to the end of time, by the carriage horse proceedings now underway in New York City. Now is the seed time of our life with animals, our call to arms for the right of animals to live as our partners on the earth and share the travails and glory and sorrows of life. We cannot offer them perfect lives any more than we can have them. We are all subject to the nature of life, it is our bond in many ways. We are called upon to help them, to save them, to save us.
The horses are calling us to a new area for politics and discourse; a new method of thinking is arising around them. We need a wiser and more mystical concept of animals than simply rescuing and pitying them and hiding them from people.
In New York City, the government and the organizations calling themselves supporters of animal rights joined together in an abusive and unjust – and unprecedented - assault upon innocent and powerless and blameless people, many of whose parents and grandparents came to our country to escape the arbitrary power of governments and ideologues. Many continued a long tradition with animals, others sough the carriage trade life because it was open to them. None of them ever imagined how hard they would have to fight to keep their lives and horses.
The people of New York City responded, almost in one voice. More than 76 percent of all businesses in Manhattan said no to the horse ban. Three out of every four New Yorkers said no. The Chamber Of Commerce and The Teamsters Union, for perhaps the first time in both of their histories, joined together to say no. Every newspaper editorial board said no.
The horses brought out the voices of so many ordinary people, they had not been heard in this wrenching debate. These were not the angry protesters shouting cruel insults at horses and people and children in carriages. These are the people who love animals and work hard to keep them in their lives and ours. This is significant. The people who love animals have begun to reclaim the right to speak for position, a position hijacked by people whose only idea seems to be to remove animals from the earth and intimidating people who disagree who differ from them. The pleas of animal lovers from all over the nation and the world – including many children – poured into the offices of New York politicians to vote for the horses.
Believe me, they were heard. In fact, they made a mighty song – the mayor heard it for sure – I think they will not fall asleep again and leave people like the carriage trade owners and drivers alone to be battered for so long.
Even in its best state, wrote Paine, government is a necessary evil, in its worst an intolerable one. "Government, like dress," he wrote, "is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of king are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise." So the carriage horses have sparked a counter-revolution, not a revolution. We reject the angry mob; we reject the abuse of power; we reject the destruction of innocent lives; the hounding of innocent people, we refuse to accept the mindless banishment and slaughter of animals in the name of saving them.
This is a story about truth and plain facts, and here are some of both about the New York Carriage Horses. The horses are not abused, they are among the most loved and best cared for animals anywhere. No reputable behaviorist, horse trainer, experienced equine veterinarian believes it is cruel for working horses to work. The horses are neither dangerous nor at great risk in New York City. In more than six million rides over 30 years, four horses have been killed as the result of traffic incidents, no humans died. Many thousands of New Yorkers have died in accidents during that time. With rare exceptions, the horses are not mistreated. In more than a century, only one driver has been charged with neglect or abuse. Of the 4,000 complaints of animal abuse in New York City last year, none were made against the carriage trade or concerning the horses.
The horses work an average of six hours a day, get five weeks of vacation, are inspected regularly by veterinarians, do not work in the heat or the cold. They get frequent rest, fresh hay and water that is continuously available. Their stables are clean, air-conditioned and heated, they are not living without socialization – they are with and around horses almost every minute of every day. They live longer than horses on rescue farms, longer than horses in the wild. They are safer than any horse who ever lived in nature. They are bred to work, have always worked, and need to work, the draft horses have always been around human beings.
It is not true that the only good life for a working horse is to be idle and unseen on a rescue farm, where they lives consist of eating hay and dropping manure. Horses need stimulation and exercise just as much as human beings do.
For me, this issue has always been about common sense. The horses have shown us what it means to think and reason, or to fail to think and reason. The cause of the horses is, in so many ways, the cause of all human beings. There are some circumstances through which the principles of all people are affected.
This is not just a story of the horses in New York, the movement to lay waste to the lives of animals and to ruin the people who would care for them and work with them is the concern of every person who loves freedom, who loves nature, who grasps the healing power of animals in our lives, who cares about Mother Earth, who wishes the right to choose how to live, who recognizes the sanctity and value of animals in our own individual lives.
This is about the horse and the dog and the cat and the pony and the elephant in the circus and the chicken and the goat and the donkey and the ewe and the geese and the fish. And about you, and how your choose to live your life. And me, and how I choose to live mine.
The horses are the keepers of the flame, what happens to them happens to all of us.