City Carriage Horse Care

By Marcella Peyre-Ferry

Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles


Crane logo City Carriage horses are not abused. Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Marcella Peyre-Ferry.
© copyrighted horse article.
When news of a catastrophic carriage accident in New York City hit the newspapers and television, video clips of the crash scene, including the severely injured horse were shown on many network newscasts. A carriage horse had bolted and galloped several blocks to the intersection of 9th Avenue and 50th Street, where the horse struck a station wagon.

The commercial carriage driver was hospitalized in critical condition after the impact threw him from the vehicle to the pavement. The two people in the car were also hospitalized with injuries, and the horse was hurt so badly that it had to be euthanized. Fortunately, there were no passengers in the vehicle at the time of the incident.

In the wake of this high profile accident, there were renewed calls to ban horses from the city streets. Other cities had already eliminated carriages. Some animal rights organizations called the practice cruel, but tourists visiting New York's Central Park area keep the businesses alive.

I don't know enough about the commercial carriage business to feel comfortable taking a stand in favor or against the practice, but I do know something about what happens to the carriage horses after their days working the city streets are over. Many of the horses that are retired from New York City carriage companies end their days in comfortable retirement at a farm run by Pets Alive. A no kill sanctuary for all kinds of animals, the facility currently is housing 15 retired carriage horses.

Picturing a city carriage horse usually brings the image of a draft horse to mind, but I learned that is not the case. Pets Alive executive director Sara Whalen reported that most of the horses she sees from that business are Standardbreds, with draft horses coming in second, followed by mixed breeds. The horses that come to Pets Alive are in their late 20s or early 30s and in good condition. "Some are lame, some are stiff, some have become uncooperative," Whalen said. In general, however, she finds that they are in generally very good condition. "They've been taken care of much more than people suspect. They obviously are never abused."

Abuse does not seem to be a problem for the horses in part because there are regular inspections of the horses, carriages and stables. The biggest factor, however, is that a healthy horse can work and earn its keep where a neglected animal will not last long. Many of the owners have a deep attachment to their horses and want them to have a good life after their work days are done. "I'm really astonished at how many owners and drivers want that (a nice retirement) for their horses. They do love them too," Whalen said.

Once a carriage horse comes to Pets Alive, it has a home for the rest of its life, even if that means the shelter must expend funds for health care. "Once a carriage horse comes here, it comes here for the rest of its life," Whalen said.

Whalen tells the story of one of her favorite horses, Timmy. "We took one carriage horse that came in a little lame that cost us $48,000," she said. After repeated recurrences of what seemed to be an abscess in a hoof, an infection of the coffin bone was discovered. After all the medications failed to fix the problem, and the last suggested treatment would cost $1,500 per injection, Whalen made contact with a retired veterinarian who was a specialist in hoof lameness. The treatment he suggested involved a medication that was no longer manufactured, but Whalen was able to hunt down an old forgotten supply that she then had to administer by herself. After dozens of people worked to help the horse, he finally recovered and lived a happy retirement until his eventual death years later from an aneurysm.

Whalen describes the carriage horses as very people oriented and affectionate. Used to working amid the noise and commotion of the city streets, the open spaces and quiet of the countryside is a big change for them.

Pets Alive would like to be able to take more retired carriage horses, but though they have land available, they do not have enough funds to fence in new paddocks for any additional horses. The shelter depends on contributions to remain viable and funding goes to support the animals that are already housed there. There are so many horses waiting to retire and we can not help them at the moment," Whalen said.

We should all think very highly of places like Pets Alive that provide homes for retired horses.

For more information on Pets Alive, including pictures and stories of some of the carriage horses retired there, visit their Web site at

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