#banhorsecarriages #notl

So, maybe you’re a fan of horse racing! Maybe the thought of a fairy tale carriage ride fills you with romantic notions. Maybe you love to watch skill and show of strength with rodeos. There are many ways horses and humans have interacted over the years, but usually it was more of a display of mastery than mutuality; control rather than connection.

Humans have made a definite division between species, with them being at the top of the list, and lesser creatures following, all with their own levels of importance as it relates to humans. (This is an important point. Their level of importance in what humans consider to be the grand scheme of things, not God or a higher power or even nature itself.)

Due to the fact we have this imaginary commodity ladder, we in the west have applied arbitrary rungs of prestige. While it is ok to eat a pig, cow or chicken, eating a dog or cat is taboo. Most of us in the west hold horses to that same class. It would shock us to see horse rump roast in our grocery freezers, and I suspect there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth as a result. Not so much in Asia or the EU, but guess where they get much of their horsemeat from?

Yep. Canada.

The horsemeat industry in Canada is flourishing. It’s actually a multi-billion dollar industry here which feeds people over there. Quite literally.

More than 54,000 horses were sent to slaughter for horsemeat in Canada in 2016 to the tune of $31 million. Since 2017, Canada has not released any new stats – apparently, the last two slaughter plants functioning are owned by one family, the Bouvry’s, who cite privacy concerns.

The Bouvry’s own multiple feedlots: two in Alberta and one in Montana, at least. There is little governance regarding animal care, and starvation, lack of shelter and illness are rampant and have been well documented over the years at Bouvry’s many sites.

So having established from where the Asian and EU markets receive their horsemeat: Canada – we should examine where the industry gets its horses.

Horses sold and shipped for horsemeat are typically cast offs from other segments of the horse breeding industry. They could be race horses, trail horses, pack horses, circus horses, rodeo horses, family pets, farm horses and carriage horses. Any horse cast out from wherever it was situated, any horse no longer needed, wanted or able to serve its original “purpose” will be auctioned off. Here, horses are displayed and inspected and hemmed and hawed over until a financial agreement is reached, at which point, they are off to their new situation. If they are lucky, they will be forced into a life of servitude elsewhere, if they are not, they are sent to slaughter.

Therefore, oppressive industries such as carriage rides, horse racing, and breeding are direct contributors to the abhorrent horsemeat industry.

When you ride in a horse carriage, you are forcing that horse, that being, to pull you and a 1,000 lb cart through heavy and noisy traffic, in heat and cold, on pavement not meant for hooves, breathing in exhaust, and deafened by blaring horns. All so you can, what….look cool? Feel special? See the sites? Well, now, you can also go about your day knowing you used someone without their permission, of which the physical activity will contribute towards their eventual ill health, which will then result in them going to Alberta to be slaughtered for meat. As a commodity, the owners will want every last drop of value that product has. And you just helped seal that deal.

By riding in the carriage, you are telling the carriage ride owners and all the people around you, horses are not as important as you are. They are deserving of only an existence in servitude, answerable to human superiority only. And eventually, that viewpoint results in that horse’s death – and countless others as well.

You can argue there is no “mistreatment” of the horses pulling carriages, and maybe that’s true. Maybe their “owners” love them, groom them, feed them, and provide veterinarian care regularly – maybe not – but maybe they do. Does that negate the loss of their freedom? Their right to choose how they want to live? Do you think horses PREFER to be hooked up to 1,000 lbs and drag it around all day, to be controlled, told when to move, when not to, yanked around by metal bits in their mouths? Or do you think this life of subservience is tolerated because having been born into this oppressive system, that is all they know? Somewhere in their life they have been taught to disobey is to be disciplined. Much like a beaten dog will grovel to it’s “master”, so will any animal do what is expected of them when the consequences of disobeying have been made clear. And after all this, after years of working in whatever capacity they were in, after years of earning money which the business owners lived on, the final insult is to go to auction, because in the end, they are a commodity and every last penny they can earn must be achieved.

The horse carriage industry is, in and of itself, also a dangerous business. The following is an excerpt from PETA, and is not completely current and is only U.S. related.

July 19, 2020/Charleston, SC: A horse
pulling a carriage for the Old South Carriage
Company took off running and sustained
serious injuries. He was euthanized.
February 29, 2020/New York, New York:
A horse was euthanized after collapsing in
Central Park.
February 4, 2020/New York, New York:
According to NYCLASS, a horse took off
running after stepping on an electrical plate
and receiving a shock. The horse ran for
several blocks before crashing into a pole
and collapsing.
February 2020/New York, New York:
According to news reports, a pedestrian
witnessed a carriage horse running loose
for several blocks before crashing into a poll
and collapsing. The horse had apparently
stepped on an electrical plate and the driver
lost control.
December 27, 2019/Charleston, South
Carolina: Two horses pulling a carriage for
the Palmetto Carriage Works company took
off and damaged several cars. One
passenger jumped out of the carriage.
December 24, 2019/Aspen, Colorado: The
driver of a horse-drawn carriage, who was
standing outside the rig, sustained a broken
leg after an SUV ran into her and the
December 14, 2019/Highland Park,
Texas: A driver reported that he was
attempting to get between two parked cars
when a horse-drawn carriage carrying eight
to 10 people tried to do the same and they
struck each other.
In a separate incident, a woman reported
that two horses pulling a carriage took off
running and slammed into a concrete wall.
One of the horses reportedly sustained a
fractured skull and a broken back.
December 1, 2019/Riverside, California:
Two horses pulling a carriage at the city’s
Festival of Lights became unhitched, ran
“full speed” down the street, and hit waterfilled plastic street barricades. Both horses
incurred “road rash.”
August 11, 2019/Clinton, Maine: A
carriage crashed after one of the horses
pulling it apparently became agitated when
bitten by an insect. The carriage hit a
telephone pole, a car, and then another
telephone pole before coming to a stop. All
four passengers were injured, and one was
airlifted to a hospital in critical condition.

Niagara on the Lake, ON is no exception. Although accidents have been less frequent than in larger cities, there is still an inherent danger to horses being in traffic, no matter the size of the town.

This particular accident was considered minor, with no charges laid, and yet, the potential for serious injury and death was there. However, rather than questioning the unviability of having horses pulling carts in the 21st Century in a busy tourist area, rather than recognizing not only the dangers but the moral ethics of horses still pulling carriages in this day and age, rather, questions were raised about removing vehicular traffic from tourist areas, in order to prevent future accidents.

Nobody had the forethought to consider “maybe we shouldn’t have these beautiful beings pulling lazy tourists around to see the sights” in all weathers and traffic conditions. Nobody wondered if maybe having horses in our city streets – in any streets – was even a sensible idea in the first place. Nobody thought of the horses’ well-being at all.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a tourist area rich in history, architecture, and landscaped beauty. With the titanic Lake Ontario beachfront area, parks, hotels, shops, the traffic is dense during tourist season. At that time, it is not reflective of the slow pace of a small town. It is as chaotic and bustling as any large city’s downtown core. No traffic lights mar the old-timey fa├žade, rather a series of 4-ways graces the main street, depending entirely on an individual’s sense of timing. With so many things to see, so much hustle and bustle, so many pedestrians, a proliferation of old and antique cars honking and blaring music, the potential for a missed cue is great, and it’s only a matter of time before an accident causing death occurs.

Let’s put horses where they belong: in pastures, and leave the streets to the vehicle traffic, for which these streets were designed. The options for alternate means of a quaint and enjoyable sight-seeing tour are endless: electric carriages, bicycles, pedal carriages. All viable and sustainable options which free horses from their archaic roles, respecting their life and individual needs as we like ours to be respected.

Let’s stop supporting these oppressive industries so the bank of available horses for the horsemeat trade is also depleted. If you ride horse-drawn carriages, you are a direct contributor to the horsemeat trade.

Do you want that on your conscience?

That Day I Changed My Mind

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.

not sure who took the pic, but this is the group of activists I marched with in NOTL on Sunday, with Adam Stirr in the lead with the megaphone.

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.