Letter writer: Article failed to fairly report carriage-horse dangers

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I was interviewed for Ms. [Virginia] Daffron’s article on the horse carriage in downtown Asheville [“Yay or Neigh: Carriage tours draw fans, protest,” Oct. 28, Xpress], and it was apparent even in the interview that she was extremely biased and has ties to the horse-carriage industry.

Asheville Voice for Animals is composed of a large number of citizens who are concerned for the welfare of any animal being exploited for entertainment. If you want to present responsible journalism, I would suggest you publish an article highlighting absolute facts about the dangers of carriages on city streets for both animals and humans.

The article places focus on the fact that the horses reside on a 30-acre pasture in Weaverville, but if they remained on that farm, we would not have an issue at all. Hours on city pavement lead to debilitating leg problems, and the exhaust fumes can cause respiratory illness.

Another common argument is that the industry helps pay for the horses’ living expenses. As someone with many animal companions of my own, I am offended by the attitude that animals must “earn their keep.” This is an agreement the animals cannot give consent to and I consider a form of slavery. The city needs to ban this practice before more carriages are added and the streets resemble the carriage cluster in cities like Savannah and Charleston.

— Sarah Windle
Veterinary assistant
Asheville Voice for Animals

Editor’s note: Mountain Xpress reporter Virginia Daffron responds: “I appreciate our letter writers’ feedback. I would like to respond to the two concerns they have raised: that I have ties to the horse-carriage industry and that I am biased in favor of that industry.

Regarding ties to the horse-carriage industry, I have none. Although I owned and rode horses as a child, I haven’t been in close contact with them for many years.

I did meet Asheville Horse & Carriage Tours owner Catherine Hunter on one occasion several years ago. I visited her barn for two hours and observed her horse-training methodology. I decided I didn’t have time then to take riding lessons, and I had no further contact with Hunter until contacting her for this article.

The only animal in my life is my 11-year-old Great Pyrenees, whom I adopted from the high-kill Madison County Animal Shelter 10 years ago.

Regarding the letter writers’ complaints that my article was biased, I sought out and quoted three animal activists opposed to the carriage-horse industry. I also obtained comment from the agency charged with ensuring animal welfare in the city of Asheville, the licensing agency responsible for overseeing carriage operators’ compliance with applicable regulations and the Asheville Police Department. My investigation revealed no validated complaints or violations associated with the one carriage horse now operating in Asheville.

The scope of this article did not include the carriage-horse industry outside of Asheville.”


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12 thoughts on “Letter writer: Article failed to fairly report carriage-horse dangers

  1. Katherine Beal

    Sarah Windle needs to be better educated about horses before she continues to confuse the public with her rather odd take on working horses. I own 7 horses and have owned many more horses for over 50 years. Trail horses, pasture puppies, sport horses,rescues. We take care of them ourselves and live on our little farm with them, and have decades of experience in understanding issues related to their care. The most absurd thing Ms. Windle said is that animals can’t consent to work, so they all therefore slaves if they have a job. Dear lord, that is a warped and insulting view. Some of our horses enjoy hanging around grazing and playing with each other and us and that’s about it. But most of them had “jobs” before they retired. For anyone who knows and understands their individual horse, it’s obvious if they enjoy their job–the ones who love to jump high and go fast, the others who specialize in taking care of their inexperienced riders, those who seem to love going into a show ring and showing the world just how special they are and how beautifully they understand and love their job and take pride in doing it well. And the many who enjoy the mental and physical challenge of learning the job and excelling. Just as some people enjoy flopping around the house with no responsibilities, some horses may be that way. But there are also horses who LOVE their work, clearly gain purpose and fulfillment from it, and form tight bonds and partnerships with their riders and handlers. For many, when there is no work, they are simply bored. I could write a book. Some adjust to retirement well, others are miserable when their work stops. As far as carriage horses go, it might depend on their temperament. I saw the pictures of this splendid fellow, and he’s part draft horse. That is a working breed. The horse looked in beautiful, robust physical condition. Are their foot and leg issues a horse which spends a lot of time on pavement might suffer? Of course. It depends on a farrier who knows how to shoe the horse for its conformation and the specifics of its job. A veterinarian who can identify any developing issues and work with the owner to prevent or repair physical injuries or stresses, sensitivity of the owner to have a real for the horse’s emotional and physical limits and can give them lots of time at home, turned out grazing, and just being horses. Car fumes aren’t good for any of us, and yes respiratory issues could arise–but so could they in a lot of situations horses may be exposed to, such as dusty barns, moldy hay, heavy pollen during allergy season. Generally, horses are more bothered by heat then cold, so rules which limit work within the bounds of reasonable temperature extremes, provide regular breaks and always fresh water, and shade to take a rest make a lot of difference. The appearance of foam around the mouth can be a sign of distress, but it also can be a sign of good and gentle communication between the hands of the carriage driver through the reins to the bit in the horse’s mouth. In many circumstances, it is a positive sign. I’d say someone who truly knows horses can look into the carriage horse’s eyes and get at least a general read if this is a horse who enjoys his work, or one who is miserable whether mentally or physically, or just plain indifferent. Some horses love being the center of attention and enjoy treats and pats from an admiring crowd. Others love the applause from a crowd at the end of a spectacular performance. I doubt anyone cares more for animal welfare and being respectful of their needs and temperaments than me, and it’s simply disrespectful and ignorant to maintain that many horses lives aren’t enriched by the work they do. Have you ever seen a cutting horse at work? The good ones love it–a great game of cat and mouse they are determined to win. You sell them short as sentient beings if you do. We have many rescue cats, dogs, horses and our lives revolve around their needs. The letter writers strikes me more as someone who has a broad agenda and is making big, blanket statements which fit the agenda. I suspect her intentions are good, but reflect a one size fits all attitude towards all animals. Next time I’m in Asheville I’m gonna look up that carriage horse because I’m curious to see if he seems content in his work or is a miserable pawn in the distressing tourist economy which now drives just about everything in Asheville. I’m not in the carriage horse business, but think I’d get a fairly educated feel if this horse is miserable and enslaved or not. Maybe Miss Windle should pay a visit to one of the auction houses where horses who are no longer “useful” are sent to be sold into the horrors of the equine slaughter chain–from New Holland, Pennsylvania across the border to Canada and gruesome, terrifying deaths, and help the many groups who haunt those places and try to buy, rehabilitate, and rehome as many of those sweethearts as they can. It might add some much needed perspective.

    • Lafayette Prescott

      It is important to remember that this issue is about the Horse carriages industry on the public streets of Asheville and other cities. There is no connection to other simile of any perceived conjectures about opinions of personal experience.
      Asheville Voice for Animals supports responsible horse owners who like most compassionate people see these animals as being intrusted to them for protection and care. Not as a revenue stream for financial gain. Horses are NOT just another cog in the in the exploitation game of the unprotected. Especially financial gain from unsuspecting tourist who may be completely unaware of the cruelty of the horse carriage industry.

      Horses used in the carriage industry are not in a friendly environment as city streets are nothing akin to the field or paddock. To try and put words into the mouth of horses is disingenuous and a complete fantasy. We frequently hear “My horse loves to work”. Really. !! So when given a choice to pull hundreds of pounds of tourist around an extremely cold or extremely hot and boring streets of a traffic infested city – A horse would chose that over a romp in the field with their fellow horses—- ABSURD!

      It is also interesting that you mention the New Holland auction. This is the very place where carriage horses go to die! When they have have been forced to work all their life with no options or choice , they are then sent to slaughter via the New Holland yard to be shipped for food in foreign countries and to be sold as ground beef in ALDI stores.

      The bottom line is that The horse carriage industry is outdated and a cruel exploitation of a majestic animal that deserves better. The facts are available. I have provided links to specifics in another thread. If you want to know the truth then seek and you shall find. I encourage all readers of this article to simply google the “the horrors of the horse carriage industry” The truth is out there.

      • Jason

        Sorry, but googling for the ‘horrors’ isn’t going to get a person an unbiased analysis of the situation. In addition, I’m rather neutral on the subject and could be swayed by a thoughtful rebuttal, but your vitriolic response as well as the tone of your compatriot’s letter are quite a put off. Asheville Voice for Animals just went from the ‘possible good guys’ category to the ‘total nutters’ category in my mind. Thanks for the clarification.

      • Wow, you’ve been busy! Of course, it’s just a cut and paste of the same propaganda making the rounds elsewhere, but let’s take a look:

        Only two words in the entire Merck Manual quotation even remotely applies to urban carriage horses: hard surfaces. But Merck’s entire laundry list only details conditions which predispose horses to lameness, not cause it. When you find evidence more unsoundness occurs in carriage horses than comparable other horse populations, we have something to talk about.

        The Lancet reference isn’t scholarly research or even represented as fact, it’s from an editorial written in 1975, forty years ago when air quality standards were a far cry from today.

        Jeffie (female, by the way) Roszel never published or submitted her 1985 “research” for review. The only suggestion the study even took place comes from animal rights veterinarian Holly Cheever’s statement she had “personal communication” with Dr. Roszel about the work. The alleged studies took place more than thirty years ago and by all accounts amounted to nothing more than a curious cytologist seeing something interesting in random washes she performed which weren’t even compared against suburban, rural or nonworking horses.

        Dr. Freeman is kind enough to point out what horsemen with surviving horses all know: horses need to be cooled out after intense work or they don’t do well. He also points out that horses don’t do well with small infrequent waterings when it’s hot. Is there any suggestion the Asheville horses are or will be treated in such a manner? We are talking about horse and carriage businesses, aren’t we? A well trained carriage horse is both a loveable and expensive business asset, what makes you think carriage operators would fail to steward their assets even if they were lacking in compassion?

        As to Dr. O’Brien’s dire warnings, taking proper care of horses reduces to negligible the chance of azotoria developing, and it’s no more likely to be found in carriage horses than in trail riding horses, or show horses, or polo ponies or any equine breaking a sweat in humid weather. Must all equine activities be curtailed so that there is no chance of heat related condition ever occurring?

        And really, you are very sweet to defend Ms. Windle. Like all of us, she’s entitled to her opinion. I found it ironic, however, that she failed to present a single fact while suggesting the Mountain Express editor needs to be more diligent about checking theirs.

  2. Jeremy Sagaribay

    I think this was a very well written and accurate letter. These horses do not want to toil in the hot sun for all of the day, being forced to constantly inhale toxic exhaust fumes. This practice is cruel and unnecessary to be present in our city.

  3. What a strange letter. Ms. Windle suggests you publish “absolute facts”, then goes on to talk about leg and respiratory ailments she feels carriage horses suffer from. There is, however, no factual basis for either of her concerns. Properly shod, horses working on asphalt – a surface created to provide a durable but resilient surface to give horses good footing – suffer no ill effects. Additionally, there’s just no credible evidence that urban horses have more respiratory illness than other horse populations. Asheville’s air quality has been rated at good or above for many years and is no more of an issue for the horses than it is for their drivers and pedestrians.
    As is so often the case with animal rights advocates, Ms. Windle didn’t let the facts get in the way of her emotional argument. How odd she would accuse Ms. Daffron of what she herself committed.

    • Lafayette Prescott

      The facts are there for those who wish to accept the truth. If your interest is to protect an abusive and outdated cultural aspect for purely economic gain, you will deny all facts. If you are concerned with the health and welfare of the animals with which we share this planet, one will seek the truth.
      From the Merck Veterinary manual. “”Factors that predispose horses to lameness include physical immaturity, which may occur in premature or dysmature foals, and training older foals before maturity. Other factors include preexisting developmental orthopedic disease (eg, osteochondrosis, flexural limb and angular limb deformities); poor conformation; improper hoof balance or shoeing; failure to adequately condition performance horses; monotonous repetitive stresses on bones, tendons, ligaments, and joints in performance horses; hard, slippery, or rocky surfaces upon which horses work; and extremely athletic activities. Inciting factors in lameness include direct or indirect trauma, fatigue resulting in incoordination of muscles (which often occurs in racehorses at the end of races), inflammation, infection, and failure to recognize early disease before it creates significant pain.””

      More facts about the horse carriage industry. http://www.nyclass.org/horse_drawn_carriages

      Creditable facts from credible research concerning Respiratory Toxic pollution http://www.animalaid.org.uk/h/n/CAMPAIGNS/other/ALL/444/#no4
      It can be assumed that the demand for horse-drawn rides would usually peak during the summer months when the tourist trade is at its busiest. This is also the time of year when roads are most congested.
      Air pollution, at any time of the year, has an adverse effect on horses’ respiratory systems. The effect of sunlight on pollution generated by vehicle exhausts can create toxic and irritant low-level ozone smog. This is particularly bad because in the hot summer weather, just when the surrounding air is at its most irritant, the hard-worked horses will be breathing most heavily to cool their bodies down. As a result, they will be drawing in huge lungfulls of toxins.
      The leading medical journal, The Lancet, has noted that animals exposed to ozone pollution have suffered emphysema, cancer and accelerated ageing, stating that ‘in animals exposed to ozone the mortality from lung infections is increased’. (1)
      U.S. Veterinarian Jeffie Roszel has studied the breathing problems experienced by horses used to draw vehicles in traffic. He found that the ‘tracheal washes and samples from respiratory secretions of these horses showed enormous lung damage, the same kind of damage you would expect from a heavy smoker’. Horses’ nostrils are usually only 3 to 3.5 feet above street level, so these animals are ‘truly… living a nose-to-tailpipe existence’. (2)
      Heat stroke, dehydration…
      Even if largely restricted to pedestrianised areas, the horses are still being exposed to the life-threatening risks of heat stroke and colic (a major cause of death in adult horses). David Freeman, a specialist equine vet at the University of Oklahoma, has warned that periods of intense exercise followed by periods when the horse is simply standing around, plus a limit on the horse’s access to small and infrequent amounts of water, increase the risks of heat stroke and colic.
      During these summer months, horses suffering from dehydration or heat stress can die in just a few hours. Symptoms of heat prostration in horses include flared nostrils, brick-red mucus membranes, trembling, and a lack of sweat production on a hot day. Some U.S. regulations forbid horse-drawn vehicles when the temperature reaches a certain degree. A problem associated with such edicts is that official weather bureau readings do not accurately reflect the temperature on city streets. A study published by Cornell University found that the air temperature recorded by the weather bureau can be nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the actual asphalt temperature. And the New York City Department of Transportation found that asphalt surfaces can reach 200 degrees Fahrenheit. These discrepancies can be life threatening particularly for a large horse, like one of the draft breeds, as they are greatly challenged in their ability to dissipate body heat into an increasingly warm environment. The horse can lose 8-10 gallons of fluid with exercise, but if the air is damp, cooling by evaporation cannot occur. If dehydrated and unable to produce sweat, anhydrosis ensues and can kill.
      The stop/go work pattern for horses is also likely to bring an increased risk of the highly dangerous condition equine myoglobinuria, or azoturia. Dr Tim O’Brien, a leading advisor to animal welfare organisations such as Compassion in World Farming, comments: ‘This presents itself when horses are worked, suddenly rested, then abruptly returned to work. It appears to be caused by the sudden liberation of large amounts of accumulated lactic acid when the animal is returned to work. The horse’s limbs become stiff. The hindquarter muscles are so rigid that they can feel like wood. Urine is sometimes retained, the bladder having to be relieved by the introduction of a catheter. Once the condition has developed, the horse is in severe danger.’
      Of equine myoglobinuria, Black’s Veterinary Dictionary emphasises: ‘If the horse is walked for any distance, a fatal outcome is likely’. (3)

      I have provided the factual basic and there is volumes more readily available to those who wish to know.
      As I understand Ms.Wndle has a degree as a veterinary assistant, operates her own animal sanctuary and works diligently to aid and assist in animal care. I believe this qualifies her to speak on behalf of animal care through her education and experience.

      • Katherine Beal

        Citations aren’t facts Lafayette Preston. I think Ms. Windle is sincere, but misguided in saying any working horse is a miserable, unhappy slave. That’s all. It reflects a lack of experience with working horses, and while her credentials are admirable and indicate a big heart and commitment to animals, she’s not as well informed as she thinks she is. That’s the problem when people become so militant and inflexible–you lose not only the battle but the war. Neither of you seems to have meaningful experience living and working with horses. One of ours became a therapy horse. Really hard work mentally as well as physically, but, he’s much happier than when he was retired. And when he needs a break, he gets a break because he’s surrounded by people who understand him and know what they are doing.Your comments about New Holland are again very lopsided. ALL kinds of horses end up there, not just old carriage horses. One mare gave birth in the kill pen a couple of months ago and a rescue took her, and the foal, and spend thousands of dollars rehabilitating them at the New Bolton Vet school. There are enormous problems out there for horses from so many walks of life that I hope you will put energy into some truly egregious cases of cruelty and brutality while you keep an eye on this lovely carriage horse and deal with specific observations that the horse is distressed or overworked or mistreated or injured rather than issue shrill blanket condemnation of this owner. I don’t think either of you has any interest in a balanced conversation, so, I’ll sign off now and hope people who have an interest in the the welfare of carriage horses aren’t overly persuaded that you have carried the day here.

    • Jeremy Sagaribay

      I happened to look at your Facebook page, and noticed that almost all of your posts are pro horse carriage, and that you don’t even live in the state! Perhaps you are part of an association of carriage owners helping each other spread propaganda for good publicity?

  4. Stewart

    As I noted in the article, “Horses shouldn’t be walking on pavement; the excessive pounding is hard on their hooves and legs and leads to lameness. And they shouldn’t be forced to live nose-to-tailpipe, breathing noxious vehicle emissions. Forcing a horse to pull a carriage full of people uphill is cruel, and doubly cruel in hot weather.” Just because horses have been historically abused by humans does not make it right. We can evolve and decide to do our best to live in ways that don’t harm other beings.

    But, ethics aside, let’s look for an independent view about public safety. If you read the ordinance, you will see that horse drawn carriages are banned in downtown Asheville during the hours of 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Why is this? Because in 1993, when the ordinance was enacted, the Ashevlle City Council thoroughly studied the issue and determined that having horses pulling carriages on downtown streets is dangerous during times of high traffic.

    Those of us who lived in Asheville in the early 1990’s know just how sleepy things were downtown back then. Fast-forward 20 plus years, and Asheville streets are jammed most of the time. A busy weekend night, which is when the carriage operates, is much, much busier than it was 20 years ago between 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.on weekdays. If the increased automobile, bicycle and foot activity is not enough to cause an accident, add to the mix some of the noises that might spook a horse: drum circles, tour buses and trolleys with megaphones, a pubcycle, buskers, music blaring from clubs, etc. The unruliness of the downtown scene makes what was happening downtown twenty plus years ago seem like Mayberry. A horse pulling a carriage in traffic is an accident waiting to happen, and it is simply a matter of time before a human or horse is harmed or killed. As this is foreseeable, and previous city council recognized the issue, I won’t be surprised if the injured party or parties sought costly legal action against the city. The current council should follow the logic and wisdom of their predecessors and ban horse-drawn carriages from the downtown area during busy times, which, now, is most of the time, and definitely on weekend evenings.

    Unfortunately, it often takes a disaster for elected officials to act. They ignore citizens who ask for laws banning the chaining of dogs, and then pass laws after someone is maimed or killed by a chained dog. The same can be said for ordinances banning the keeping of wild animals. We need to be proactive, not reactive, and learn from what has happened in other communities.

    I made Ms. Daffron aware of the actions of the old City Council, and she chose not to report on it. I don’t understand why, I think it presents a different and independent side of the discussion.

  5. Kimberly

    This article couldn’t be further from the truth! Respiratory illness and infection don’t come from fumes while outside in the open air in traffic- you are a human with much smaller lungs than a horse and are living breathing proof that it’s pure poppycock! People in NYC would have to ban cars if that was even close to true! We wouldn’t have housing next to freeways. Sheesh! How do people get away with printing such crap!

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