So I did a thing yesterday, peeps. I’d been wanting to do it for a while, but even as a vegan, I was kind of in two minds about it. I have to admit, I had to figure it out for myself.
I attended an action to protest the use of horses pulling carriages for tourists in Niagara-on-the-lake, Ontario. The reason I was in two minds is because I love horses and horse-back riding. I always have, even as a child. I always wanted to own a horse so I could leap nimbly onto his back, lean into his strength and ride, swiftly and smoothly, across fields and meadows. I wanted to fly over country fences, turn corners perfectly on the inside leg, feel the majesty beneath me, and bond with a beautiful animal spirit in the process.
Yeah I watched a lot of Disney.
I was in two minds because I watched a family member battle a grievous disease by taking horseback riding lessons, which helped strengthen her, calm her, and heal her simply by being able to connect with the lovely soul of a training horse; by learning how to care for it as well as ride it, she grew stronger and more capable to handle tasks elsewhere.
Obviously, I had a deep respect as well as love for these amazing creatures. So why would I want to abolish horse-carriage rides, remove the opportunity for others to enjoy and benefit from horses too?
I needed to find out what all the hullabaloo was about.
(NB: I’m now vegan for 3 years, but admittedly at 59, it obviously took most of my life to get there, despite the fact that I am and always have been an animal lover. I don’t really know why it took so long, but all this means is that I do not have the right to judge someone else for being slow to awaken, even though I often do. #sorrynotsorry see that post here.)
We did some marching, made a lot of noise on a quiet, Sunday afternoon, waved our signs, signaled our thrill when passers-by supported us, and generally took the small, quaint town by storm. Not gonna lie, it was fun.
People were pissed, man! And I kinda understood why: here they were for a holiday stop after a harrowing spring with covid19 dogging everyone’s heels. All they wanted to do was eat over-priced, overrated meals, shop in over-full stores with over-inflated rents, flash over-used credit cards around, and just generally enjoy a long over-due break from every day life, letting over-worked horses drive their over-weight asses around in over-the-top record heat….wait….what was that?
You heard me.
Ok, so why exactly were they pissed we were there? Because we interrupted their day. We had the unmitigated gaul to bring an injustice into the forefront of their day out. We ripped the air of peace and serenity like a tornado through a spider’s web, and it was not well received by many.
I was able to hear some of the comments, some of them I can actually print here because they are PG rated. Oh who the hell am I kidding? We were told to fuck off; suck a dick; go home; get a job (how does protesting indicate we are unemployed?); get out of THEIR town (who owns NOTL?); and other remarks stated under breath as they snuck by us.
I don’t think they understood, or maybe they’d forgotten, civil disobedience is one of our Charter Rights. Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows all citizens to gather in public and protest peacefully (yes even vociferously) in an effort to educate the public about issues which some feel need to be addressed and even changed. It is our right – not a privilege – a right to do so on any given day of the week. And it is how women got the vote in 1918 in Canada; it is how desegregation came about in 1954 in the U.S.; it is how changes were made by Martin Luther King, Jr.s March on Washington in 1963 in support of racial equality; it is how the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
Sorry, NOTL, but we the citizens are allowed to go anywhere in Canada and make noise for issues we feel need to be changed. In this case, it was for the injustices perpetrated on animals in our society: specifically horses.
The horse drawn carriage rides are a commercial nod towards the old days of horse labour in our society and are publicized to reflect the old-fashioned, quaint aura of Old Town in NOTL. Many cities use these types of enterprises for tours, complete with period clothing and vernacular. It’s charming and appealing to be driven around in style, gandering at the architecture and local sights, and makes one feel a little bit better than the mere peons on foot. It’s an ego boost.
But it comes at what cost to the horse? Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is animals, and horses specifically to this situation, are considered property. A commodity to be used by its owner as needed. They are just another tool to making money: like a computer, a car, or a pen – and as such can be disposed of by its owner as they see fit once they are no longer profitable. Most cities have minimal animal protection guidelines, especially for carriage horses, which are often not enforced due to lack of knowledge. Care for the horses is reliant upon the owner of the company, and with the Ag Gag Bill 156 looming, that will soon be something we can’t monitor. In the case of NOTL, the animals home treatment is not in question. The Sentineal family is well known in the community for their care of horses, but that’s not the issue here, which from the comments I heard Sunday, is what people don’t understand.
How this particular business cares for their horses in not in question. It’s the fact that they are put to work pulling carriages in 30 plus degree heat and below zero temps for up to 9 hours at a time; they pull carriages between erratic and dangerous traffic, breathing in car and truck exhaust, hearing motorcycles gunning their engines, people honking horns, dodging pedestrians blindly crowding cross walks. They have little respite in summer from the broiling Ontario sun and heated tarmac. Many of the horses are slaughter house rescues, which means they were already dumped by some previous owner after their use had finished and may suffer from other health concerns related to that previous industry. This is how the business justifies their actions. They “saved” these horses from the slaughterhouse and gave them a great life pulling fat-assed tourists around in heat and humidity so powerful we put weather warnings out for the general public because it’s so dangerous!
Other cities have, in the last few years, banned horse-drawn carriages and many incidents have been publicized about horses collapsing and dying due to mistreatment, ill health or weather. These cities have switched to electric carriages: a clean, green version of the horse-drawn carriage, not governed by any vague and unenforced welfare guidelines, not affecting any living being negatively, yet just as productive and effective.
So now that I have attended one of these actions, I shall be going back. I mean, my blog is all well and good, but with only a few followers, it’s not going to make any big dent in public education about animal rights. Attending a protest will cause disruption, will cause agitation (that’s why they used to call protesters ‘agitators’ back in Susan B. Anthony’s day). Disruption and agitation is how we catch people’s attention. It’s how we can get people to think, even just a little, about the situation. Just like I did. And maybe, we can help a few others see the truth about horse-drawn carriage rides, animal entertainment exhibits, wild animal incarceration, and factory farming. Maybe we can help them change.
Just like I did.