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There are few forms of animal oppression that we celebrate so boldly and blatantly as we do in our use of horses. Once used as a form of transport or a piece of machinery to help build, plough and tow, the horses use has now transferred in most parts of the world to that of an object existing for our entertainment. Whether that be to climb on their back for a pleasure ride, performance or gambling habits (see more here) or to be dragged through the urban landscape in a tacky display of times gone by. All involve the hijacking of one’s life, the breaking of one’s spirit and the assertion of domination, power and control of a magnificent individual, feeding our human superiority complex and catering to our deep seeded insecurities.

The sight of a horse tied to a post in a busy city centre, forced to wait for the next fare is a pitiful one. Such magnificent animals standing defeated, their heads hung low, their sprits broken. On occasion they will throw them about in frustration, unable to free themselves from the carriage shaft and harness that restricts their bodies. They may have another horse tied in alongside them, neither able to escape each other if desired. They will have no ability to move freely or express themselves, no ability to graze or even scratch an itch. There, they will remain for commonly 12-hour days, as adults and children alike come along, pat and poke at them, often to the annoyance of the individual who cannot get away. There they will inhale the city fumes and be forced to contend with busy traffic, cars, trams, cyclists, buses and pedestrians, late night drunk and obnoxious crowds. There, they will be on display as a slave, further normalising and reinforcing animal oppression, sending a message to children that animals exist to serve us. There, as plain as day, a magnificent, powerful and most majestic individual stands broken, humiliated and lowered to the status of a mere vehicle, waiting for you, the all mighty human, to be at your service.

Horses used to pull carriages, like all other forms of using animals as entertainment, is a business that exists for the benefit of the humans profiting from them, not for the horses. Often promoted as a sentimental outing, horse-drawn carriages are not as romantic as you might think and the related issues faced by the horses and the community are common across the globe. Campaigns running to have them banned repeatedly expose the inherent cruelty of the trade, the unavoidable dangers the trade poses to pedestrians; passengers; cyclists; and the horses themselves, the amenity impacts, the strong public opposition and the ever more prevalent understanding that animals simply do not exist to be used for our entertainment.


Like all industries involving the use of animals, the horses’ welfare is frequently compromised in the pursuit of profit. Many cities undertake Codes of Practice which are regularly proven to act more as a token gesture to reassure people the horses welfare is being addressed rather than a code existing to actually attempt to protect the horses. The Code of Practice that was until recently valid in the capital city of Melbourne Australia allowed horses to be forced to work in temperatures of up to 37 degrees and down to as low as any temperature, for up to 12 hour days. Campaigns throughout the world have proven time and again that the little protections such codes provide are not even enforced due to local councils not having the resources nor the will to bother.

In the peak of summer, the temperatures emanating from the black tar the horses stand can reach temperatures of up to 30 degrees above temperatures gauged, meaning horses can have a heat of up to 67 degrees Celsius radiating at them for much of the day in the peak of summer in hot cities such a Melbourne. Harvard-educated equine veterinarian Dr Holly Cheever[i] explains, “In the critical temperature range of 89-96 degrees Fahrenheit, (31.6 – 35.5 degrees Celsius) a large horse is greatly challenged in his/her ability to dissipate body heat into a hot environment, especially if high humidity is a factor. In a hot environment, a horse can lose 8-10 gallons of fluid with exercise, but if the air is saturated by high humidity, evaporative cooling cannot occur and the horse’s core temperature continues to climb. If the horse becomes dehydrated and cannot produce sweat, life-threatening anhydrosis ensues; keeping a horse well hydrated on urban streets is a challenge in these modern times with no public horse troughs.” It is important to note that in most of the world’s capital cities and regional towns where horses are used to pull carriages operators are not forbidden to force them to work in these conditions and have been regularly documented doing so.

Hard surfaces are an issue for all horses, irrelevant of the breed. Laminitis or founder, a very painful condition, occurs when the connective tissues or lamellae between the pedal bone and the hoof wall become inflamed. In severe cases, the pedal bone can separate from the hoof wall, and penetrate the sole. This condition is often crippling, cannot be cured and can be fatal.[ii] The Melbourne Against Horse Drawn Carriages campaign in Australia has both observed and received reports of potential laminitis in the carriage horses. Unfortunately, lack of transparency from the relevant companies and the absence of any active regulatory body has meant they have not been provided with details of actions taken (if any). Evidence of hoof neglect is a regular occurrence.

Horses are forced to negotiate trams, buses, cyclists, pedestrians, skateboards and cars all day and night, placing them at immense risk of injury and death. Around the world life threatening incidents are commonplace and horses are often killed as a result of their enslavement.[iii] In Melbourne, recent years reports include cyclists crashing under carriages, cyclists being kicked by horses even when keeping to their own bike lane and horses spooking, throwing the driver from the vehicle, running consecutive red lights before crashing into bins.[iv] Another incident resulted in horses running freely over the Princes Bridge with six passengers on board after the driver was thrown from the carriage. He was sent to the hospital with back injuries.[v] More recently a horse was steered into an oncoming tram and his head smashed through the front safety glass.[vi]

Source: The Age

On a hot summers day two horses lay injured on the road horrifying passers-by, yet as happened when the horse was struck by a tram, the operator was allowed to leave the scene and no vet checks of the horses were required nor was their wellbeing followed up.[vii]

After their ‘work’ days the horses are predominantly kept in inadequately sized yards or stalls in the inner city, in unacceptable conditions. Forced to sleep in high-rise stalls as has been documented in New York, or in vacant concrete lots under freeways, or on train lines strewn with debris as occurs in Melbourne Australia and many other capital cities, there is minimal security, lack of appropriate shelter and no adequate space to move about and rest.

Some horses are rotated back to paddocks on occasion and others not, depending on the operator. There is no regulation or requirements for any time away from the city. An ex-carriage driver from Melbourne alleges witnessing the horses of the company they worked for being kept in a tiny inappropriate filthy lot for their entire 3-month employment.

Aggressive and violent operators also appears to be associated with the trade globally. Melbourne has frequently documented both verbal and physical abuse from operators towards demonstrators and the general public.

Operators have also been witnessed punching horses in the head[viii], twisting their ears[ix] and being kicked to get back up after falling or collapsing on the roads.

Expert Facts and Opinions

Equine Veterinarian Dr Holly has a lifetime of experience in horse management, including the driving of carriage horses. Dr Cheever has long been documenting the detrimental health implications on New York’s carriage horses. “Carriage horse rides in urban settings remain popular tourist attractions in many cities, but, unfortunately, they place the horses in inappropriate environments that are detrimental to their health and well-being. Unequivocally, horse-drawn carriages and motor vehicles should not share the same roadways, as doing so puts the animals and public at risk. With their exhaust fumes, hard road surfaces, and busy traffic patterns, cities are simply not humane—as opposed to survivable—environments for carriage horses. “
Her evidence of the physical health implications on the horses and dangers posed to both horses and humans has been well documented.[x] Although reflective on New York specifically in this report, the issues of heat prostration, lameness, inexperience, spooking, and stabling are the same faced by horses used to pull carriages globally to varying degrees.

Horse behavioural expert Carlos Tabernaberri travels the world redefining the way in which we interact with horses. He has expressed immense concern for urban carriage horses, not only for their physical but also their mental states. In a letter to the Melbourne Against Horse Drawn Carriages campaign Carlos states “While people may feel entitled to earn a living, I believe it should not be at the expense of the horse’s well-being. After all, the biggest crime of all is for good people to do nothing when they should have spoken. While I do not like to condemn I do not condone the practices of horse-drawn carriages in cities. They do not belong there in this time and age and I am aware like you of the detrimental health issues but most importantly mentally also. So, in short, I am with you.” 

In 2006 a thorough study of equine health and the impacts of the instruments used to ‘break’ and control horses for the various ‘activities’ they are used, was conducted at the University of Saint-Petersburg. Taking part was the research department of Nevzorov Haute Ecole, together with specialists and experts of the Forensic Medical Examination Office in St., Petersburg, veterinarians and journalists. Details of the experiments done to gauge the impact of the ‘bit’ (the cruel metal bar used in the horses mouth) can be found explained in both Volume 1 & 2 of the Nevzorov Haute Ecole Equine Anthology. Results demonstrate the use of bits on horses to be extremely painful – the jerking force exceeds 300 kilograms per square cm – the typical pull, being 80-100 kilograms per square cm. The devices act on a very small area of the horse’s head, which is all wired with nerves so can generate immense pain. Carriage drivers tug at the horses bits regularly to steer and control them through city traffic. Additionally, several have been witnessed very forcefully tugging at the bits to use the horse as weapons against both cyclists [xi] and demonstrators.

Stormy May, ex-horse trainer turned human educator exposes the impact of the tools used to control horses in her book and documentary film ‘The Path Of The Horse’.[xii] When referring to the St Petersberg study she states:
“There’s nothing benevolent about a bit. Even the best-fitted, mildest bit has only one function – to cause pain. Even the mildest bit has the capacity to break a horses jaw. When we’re causing pain to another being for our own pleasure, we can never have the sort of relationship that we’re fantasising about. We have horses that go where we say, when we say, at the gate we specify. All our training has done is turn our horses into puppets. To break through this illusion that we are doing the best for our horses, we must be willing to re-evaluate everything we currently take for granted. We must be willing to see things as they are and to call abuse abuse and torture torture, rather than cloaking it in euphemisms such as schooling and correction.” 

Seeing these cruel practices as acceptable everyday behaviour by both the carriage drivers and some members of the public is largely due to horse control and domination being so deeply ingrained and normalised throughout our society.


Many cities around the world have banned the use of horses to pull carriages on both horse welfare and horse and human safety grounds. Most recently Guadalajara (Mexico), Montreal (Canada), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Salt Lake City (US), Mumbai (India) have joined the growing list. In July 2017, the City of Melbourne (Australia) banned the street trading permits of carriage operators[xiii] however the trade continues illegally due to lack of enforcement by councillors and the Lord Mayor. Operators blatantly breach street-trading and road safety laws whilst local law enforcement officers, VicRoads and Victoria Police turn a blind eye. Visit the Melbourne Against Horse Drawn Carriages page for ongoing documented evidence.

Chariots of Fire by Harley


Carriage operators will often claim to love the horses they profit from and refer to them as family members when they are challenged. Yet, it is standard industry practice to breed, buy and sell horses at a whim depending on the needs of the operator at the time. Buying and selling living beings for profit, and using them in harsh environments to their detriment is not a sign of love. Horses once used to pull carriages have been documented at horse sales and sold online by carriage operators once they no longer want them. There is absolutely no regard shown for who these horses are sold to, where they will live and how they will be treated into the future. This is not how you treat a loved one or a family member, further proving that horses used to pull carriages are viewed and treated as mere commodities for profit.

Horses recently used to pull carriages are sold off at the notorious Echuca sales
Credit: Bear Witness Australia – Witness #1


 Now more than any other time in history, humans are analysing and re-assessing our relationship with non-human animals whom we share this planet. No longer does the past offer a reasonable excuse to continue with practices out of step with societies expectations now and into the future. It is also the responsibility of those elected to not only reflect those values but be leaders in positive change. The use of animals in the circus is becoming widely unaccepted ( the use of exotic animals recently banned by the City of Melbourne), marine parks are continually trying to justify holding marine mammals in captivity, rodeos routinely display agregious animal torture and so-called “sports” such as greyhound and horse racing continue to be exposed for heinous cruelty against animals all in the name of greed. The use of animals for human entertainment is a cruel and outdated concept.

A cyclist crashes under a carriage wrapping the wheel around the horses leg.


Capital cities are abundant with cruelty-free entertainment. Melbourne Australia for example, named the most liveable city, is world class in the arts, vegan food, music, cultural diversity, historic monuments, museums and nightlife. Family friendly day activities are on offer throughout the beautiful gardens, galleries, laneways, theatres, cultural and activity centres. Pedicabs offer a safer and cruelty-free way to explore the cities highlights and push bikes can be hired to make use of the ever-growing cycling routes. At night the city transforms into a thriving restaurant, bar, live music and entertainment hub, whilst family friendly tours and activities go into the late hours.


Melbourne is set to keep growing at a fast pace with population expected to almost double to 7.7 million by 2051. The City of Melbourne itself is already a thriving metropolis with around 805,000 people using the city every day and more than a million international visitors to the CBD each year. Central Melbourne has one of the fastest growing residential populations in Australia and has seen a proliferation of apartment buildings in recent years. Swanston Street (where the carriage operators continue to illegally trade and park) is the busiest tram route in the world and with current plans for the Metro Rail Tunnel, this location is entirely inappropriate for a fleet of horse carriages. Numbers of bicycle commuters have sky-rocketed and the carriages present a serious road hazard along busy thoroughfares. Horse-drawn carriages have no place in a sophisticated world city such as Melbourne, which continues to develop at an increased density.

What are we reinforcing in people (particularly children) if we condone one of the most majestic beings on the planet being tied to a post much of the day, a metal bar shoved in his/her mouth, a waste bag tied to their body, being jerked to and fro, on injury inflicting surfaces, amongst dangerous traffic and fumes, for something as menial as taking a tourist trip that can be as easily done on foot or by other means? Is this really what we believe horses exist for – to serve us like slaves, in harness all day with no way to move freely or behave naturally? Forcing an animal into submission, to do as we demand, when we demand is not an expression of love and respect. It is the wielding of control and dominance. The most loving thing we can do for any being is to allow them to exist as close to as what comes naturally to them as possible. We must let go of our need to interfere when not necessary. It takes strength to rethink what has been ingrained in human society for thousands of years, to critically analyse and see things for what they are. Our seemingly uncontrollable human desire to intervene rather than observe such beauty from a distance will never give us the true and meaningful connection with animals we so desperately desire.

For an in-depth interview with Vocal Animal on the Melbourne campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages click here.

Author: Kristin Leigh
Occupation: Communications Manager & Volunteer Coordinator
Founder & President of Vegan Rising














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