Monday, November 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Carriage Horses, both Named Roger

Straight from the Horse's Heart

Amy WordenInquirer Staff Writer as published at

“…horses and people need not be top athletes to enjoy a life of mutual respect and healthy fitness.”

carriage_horse_new_yorkA New York City carriage driver tells the story in yesterday’s Daily News of how he rescued Roger, a broken down, emaciated and wound-covered Amish buggy horse, 15 years ago.
After months of rest, decent food and love, Roger was healthy and restored and began his new life as a Central Park carriage horse, gaining fame for carting around tourists and celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Noth in a “Sex and the City” episode.
Roger is set to retire soon at the age of 20.
The point of the column by Ian McKeever no doubt was to show New Yorkers that a well-cared for horse can thrive pulling carriages and that the alternative would have been bleak.
The carriage industry, long the bain of animal welfare advocates, is poised to end. Both mayoral candidates support banning carriages and the high-profile deaths and injuries of horses in traffic have spurred efforts to replace horses with antique automobiles.
Roger was on his way to a slow, torturous death at the hands of an Amish farmer who would likely have sent him directly to the “kill pen” at New Holland auction.
Livery drivers are sometimes no better, sending their horses off to “retirement” at New Holland.
Whether it’s Manhattan or Philadelphia, the city streets are hazardous for horses. Forcing horses to stand in extreme temperatures waiting for passengers is wrong.
But as McKeever rightly says, horses need jobs and exercise, be it pulling a carriage, controlling crowds as a member of a police mounted unit or rounding up cattle.
Watch a top flight performance horse, whether doing a horse/human ballet known as dressage, galloping across an Olympic cross country course or reining cattle, and you quickly learn that horses and humans can and do form wonderful bonds.
And horses and people need not be top athletes to enjoy a life of mutual respect and healthy fitness.
I was in McKeever’s shoes five years ago. Responding to a for-sale ad, I turned up at the barn of a Lancaster County Amish man who had been busted several months earlier for running a horrible puppy mill.
Inside the stall were two large draft horses sharing a single small stall, standing in 18 inches of manure. I bought them both – they were underweight, loaded with worms and highly suspicious of humans. I couldn’t leave them behind, or leave one behind, so I bought them both. Now there are three – our Belgian, Belle, was pregnant at the time – and all are thriving as backyard pleasure horses.
When I don’t get out enough to exercise Belle’s baby, four-year-old Chloe, it shows. Just yesterday she tore around our round pen in a frenzy fueled by the cooler weather and too many days lounging around the hay hut.
Draft horses, like many of those that pull New York carriages, are bred to pull loads. They are muscular and weigh 800 or 1,000 pounds more than the average horse.
An active, working horse who is fed well, housed well and treated kindly, is generally a happy horse. I am not on board with the “lawn ornament” crowd who believe that horses should sit in pastures. These are the horses that are destined for neglect, like Bridget, the blind roan, found roaming the roads of Adams County last month but now in the safe hands of our local SPCA in Gettysburg awaiting adoption along with her seeing eye goats.
Isn’t there a compromise to be reached on the New York carriage horse issue? I can’t understand why no one has suggested stabling the horses in Central Park. Would as many people object to carriages if the horses worked and lived in the park and therefore avoided the dangerous traffic and other street hazards to and from the stables?
The election of New York City’s next mayor comes just as a federal judge in New Mexico clears the way for horse slaughter plants to again open in the United States.
That surely would have been the fate of Roger had McKeever not plunked down $1,400 to save him. Now Roger, immortalized in “Sex and the City” reruns and star of his own Facebook page, heads off to retirement on a Long Island farm.
Those who follow in the hoofprints of Roger deserve the opportunity to live, work and retire humanely.

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