Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

But What About The Cop Horses?

YOUNG HORSE IN THE BIG CITY, LOVE MY JOB AND MY FRIENDS :)Bill de Blasio has been mayor for about four months and the carriage horses are still here. Now it looks like they'll survive the year, at least, unless of course they get hit by cars. But the Daily News and its incredibly vigorous campaign to save the carriages has taken us down an interesting path: THE POLICE HORSES. Who cries for them?

If it's hard to be a carriage horse, it can't be easy to be a crime horse. NYClass, the organization providing a lot of the money and most of the talking points for the anti-carriage set, says that carriage horses are "unaccustomed to the urban environment" with its "busy and unsafe streets," and that the "hard pavement" and "exhaust from cars, buses and taxis" make their lives miserable. At least the carriage horses spend their time in Central Park. On top of that the police horses have to deal with Times Square, a forsaken pre-apocalyptic advertising experiment that is almost too much for humans to bear, much less gentle ponies. Surely the mayor has some concerns about this, even if police horses are better cared for off the clock.

But, no. The mayor told a reporter yesterday, "It's apples and oranges… (The mounted unit) is something that’s about the public’s vital interests. So I think it’s a very different reality than something that’s about tourism." This may be the case, but it doesn't jibe with the police department's own PR. In 2011, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne characterized the horses as "tremendous ambassadors of good will." He was happy to characterize them as tourist attractions: "I’d hazard to guess that our horses are photographed more often than Kim Kardashian," he said. As for their utility, he says, "added height and visibility" is a bonus.

I imagine de Blasio is choosing his fights with the NYPD carefully, but he's setting up a trap: Eventually, the city will either go all in on tourist torture horses or get rid of them completely, whether or not they have officers of the law on their backs. And it seems like the department might be worried, even if it won't say so directly. Take this impeccably timed and weirdly disorienting piece in the Times last week, in which the mounted unit shows off its new headquarters and stables, which will share the ground floor of the West Side mega-luxury Mercedes House tower with a car dealership:

Special flooring soothes legs weary from a long day’s work. Ten-foot-high doors offer easy passage between spacious rooms. A high-tech ventilation system eliminates even the worst odors.

Most crucially, there’s a state-of-the-art hayloft.

“It’s definitely high-end accommodations,” said Deputy Inspector Barry Gelbman, commander of the New York Police Department’s mounted unit. “They’re some of the nicest stables I’ve ever seen.”

Police horses aren't just comfortable and healthy. They're gentrifiers! They enjoy the grit and the noise of the city and go home to their glass castles at night.

(photo via)

6 Comments / Post A Comment

That Times piece is so bizarre.

VaricellaSundry (#248,088)

It's not clear to me why the police horses are grouped in with the carriage horses. I've spent years working with horses and it appears that this comparison is flawed.

The welfare of police horses is properly addressed in terms of the horses' physical needs for the urban environment (good hoof care, balanced diet for their activity level). The fact that they are working horses is not a bad thing; the horses are selected for intelligence, agility, and willingness to work. Some breeds enjoy working, just as some breeds of dogs do. As long as they are properly cared for and not expected to perform beyond their physical limits (such as not getting adequate rest), they are incredibly useful for police work.

The carriage horses, on the other hand, do not appear to have any guarantee of good care. I've seen carriage horses whose hooves are in awful shape, and they are undoubtedly suffering. What's more, some of the harnesses fit poorly and restrict the horse's full range of motion in the neck, and this can cause injuries and chronic pain. You can tell they're in pain by the way they walk. These problems could be mitigated by enforcing policies on care standards, including restrictions on using horses that are too small to reasonably pull specific weight ranges. This is just my own observation, but I've never seen a police horse with bad hooves, or one that was out working with an injury. The carriage horses don't fare so well, and it really is too bad because, as strange as it sounds, some horses like having a job to do. They are like any other worker, however, in that they need protection from being run into the ground.

And further, have any of you ever actually smelled a horse up close? Their coats smell WONDERFUL. If their manure is cleared away each day, all that is left in the barn is the amazing smell of clean horse coat, hay and leather.

VaricellaSundry (#248,088)

@anthraxl rose What I really mean is, unless de Blasio is willing to regulate the ever-living fuck out of the carriage industry, he should shut it down. But a set of welfare standards, which ostensibly appear to be in place at NYPD already, should apply to the use of police horses. The mayor is correct that this is an "apples and oranges" comparison, but he's partially wrong about why.

soulhorse (#250,845)

@anthraxl rose I actually drove a horse drawn carriage for several years in Boston, and one of our carriage horses was a horse that we took after he didn't make the cut with the Boston Mounted Unit. I think the care of the carriage horses varies by which company owns them, and there are many. It's no different than regular horse owners across the country (of which I am also one). Some people are bad owners, some are not. In Boston, anyway, the company owner's husband was a farrier, so the horse's feet were always trimmed and fitted with borium cleats to help with the pavement, and each horse had his own harness so they were always fitted perfectly to that specific horse. So, I think more regulation would be better than banning them altogether. I believe the NYC horses get several months off in a field upstate– that's not such a bad life.

VaricellaSundry (#248,088)

@soulhorse What a cool job! I agree with you about the variance among horse owners, that is a good point. It is why regulation would be a good step.

Varying competence of horse ownership also provides a clue about the behavioral problems that are cited as well. Horses that are well trained, well cared-for and temperamentally suited to working do not generally "spook". If they're used to urban noises and lights, they can hang pretty well (and many carriage horses have blinders on too). The ones that are jumpy and miserable are that way because they're stressed out and in pain, or have the wrong temperament to do that kind of work in the first place. It's not because they are noises and lights are fundamentally incompatible with them. I sincerely hope that they get a vacation each year – that's heartening news.

soulhorse (#250,845)

@anthraxl rose Totally! We had an older Percheron who felt just as natural in the city as anything. Street sweepers, umbrellas, jackhammers…nothing fazed that dude. That was his job and he liked it. In Boston, though, the horses had to be trucked in, so they worked nights in the city and spent the day in the suburbs hanging out in a field. The ex-police horse we took in actually had the most issues out of any of them! He was spooky and mean.

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