with Horse and Hound

They Just Don’t Get It

norman.karen.farnleyKaren L. Myers photoThere are numerous unrelated constituencies roiling the pot in the New York City horse carriage controversy, and all of them—from stakeholders to politicians to the news media—express strong opinions on one side or another.

There are the animal rights activists who don’t believe animals should work, real estate developers who see big profits in renewing the stable property for higher-income use, politicians elected with the help of large donations from those who would ban the carriages, carriage drivers who are threatened with loss of livelihood, tourists and romantics who feel that iconic images of New York City should be preserved, and true horse people who are saddened to see any traditional horse activity lost to contemporary life. It’s the latter group that is the least understood.

To underscore that point, a headline from a recent issue of The Gothamist posed the question, “Why Are Carriage Horses So Important to These People?” The title of the article was a quote by Elizabeth Forel, president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, an organization that has campaigned to eliminate horse-drawn carriages since its founding in 2006.

“Why are carriage horses so important to these people?” Forel asked rhetorically. “It’s a tiny, tiny industry.”

They just don’t get it, do they? All those people who were short-changed at birth and lack the horse gene simply don’t see what the rest of us see. One would think, though, that they would realize they’re missing something. One has only to consider art, literature, and the history of mankind to see that the horse is not something to be airily dismissed.

Paleolithic hunter-gatherers celebrated the grace and beauty of the horse in their cave paintings more than 18,000 years ago. The third most valuable painting ever sold was George Stubbs’ “Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey,” fetching nearly thirty-six million dollars. The horse is “the most paintable subject in the animal world,” asserts renowned British artist Terence J. Gilbert.

The horse has been the subject of some of the best-loved and enduring novels. Its majestic form has been celebrated in statuary throughout history for its willingness to amplify man’s might in battle and confer heroic dimensions to his meager frame. The horse gave man the speed to match that of the animals he hunted and to assume dominion over the livestock he raised so he could feed his family. The horse allowed us to leave our feet when traveling, relieve our backs in the transport of goods, and provided man’s first engine for agricultural machinery. Today, the horse persists in extending its utility and pleasure as man’s most powerful and at the same time gentle partner in sport.

And so, Ms. Forel, I’m sorry that you don’t get it, but that’s why carriage horses are so important to “these people.”

Posted May 7, 2014