The economy is so bad right now even Santa is in a slump. Towns and cities all over the country are looking for ways to trim their budgets, and many are canceling tree-lighting ceremonies and cutting back on holiday displays.
Here’s one simple thing that cash-strapped municipalities can do to cut costs this holiday season: Cut out the horse-drawn carriage rides. In addition to giving horses a break, officials can eliminate the very real liability risks associated with these cruel and dangerous holiday rides.
Today’s crowded streets and mall parking lots are no place for horses. These animals are extremely sensitive to loud noises and unexpected sounds—and holiday traffic has plenty of both. Horses and humans alike have been seriously hurt—some fatally—when horses have spooked and run amok.
At a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Wisconsin on the day after Thanksgiving, for example, two carriage horses startled by the display bolted and ran over a spectator, who had to be hospitalized. In December 2001, a 4-year-old Indiana boy was killed when the horse pulling the carriage he was riding in during a city-sponsored Christmas party was spooked by a passing car and bolted. On Christmas Eve 1999 in Delaware, one person was partially paralyzed and two others injured after a truck ran into their horse-drawn carriage. A week earlier in Sarnia, Ontario, a woman was killed when the horses she was using for pre-Christmas carriage rides bolted and dragged her to her death.
PETA has been documenting incidents involving horse-drawn carriages since 1985, and every single year—not just during the holidays—passengers are injured in these rides.
Such rides are hazardous to the horses’ health as well. In Northern climes, horses must trudge through snow and ice in freezing temperatures, and their legs get coated with slush and salt. In Southern regions, horses can quickly become overheated when forced to pull oversized loads in high temperatures and humidity. The holiday season is short, so horses are provided with few breaks to rest or recuperate.
Horses are excluded from protection under the federal Animal Welfare Act, so their welfare falls to local animal control officials. But anti-cruelty laws afford few safeguards to horses, since many humane authorities just don’t have the resources or the time to monitor carriages in order to ensure that horses are not being overworked or that operators are following regulations. On Christmas Eve 1999, a horse collapsed in Charleston, South Carolina, and lay moaning in the street for several hours until a veterinarian arrived to euthanize him. A year earlier in Milwaukee, a horse died after the carriage he was pulling was hit by a car. Police killed the horse by firing four shotgun blasts into the animal.
After a hard day of fighting crowds, waiting in line and diving into discount bins, most shoppers are wiped out. So please remember the horses who toil day after day without respite. Shoppers can embrace the spirit of the season by not patronizing carriage rides. City officials can take steps to protect public safety, enforce animal welfare and safeguard taxpayers’ pocketbooks by banning these rides.
Peace on Earth and goodwill to all.