Especially in the western world, horse-drawn carriages often shape the cityscapes and are seen as a part of their tradition. These tourist attractions are widely promoted carried out at the expense of the animals.
Urban carriage horses suffer from a range of different issues:
First, walking on hard ground all day everyday does great harm to their joints and hooves, even when they are properly shod. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that horses be periodically maintained on soft surfaces (i.e., pasture), to avoid damage and facilitate circulation within the hoof (AVMA Urban Horse Fact Sheet, 2014) (1). But most carriage horses barely ever get this kind of “holidays” and have no regular access to pasture in most urban settings.
In addition to this, the animals have to struggle with air pollution, leading to many respiratory conditions, including bronchitis, rhinitis, inflammatory airway disease, and reactive airway disease. Furthermore, they are exposed to high levels of noise, which is extremely stressful for animals, which have a natural flight response. In cities like New York, carriages have to fight their way through hundreds of cars and people, sometimes leading to horrible accidents when the horses start panicking.
The weather also has a huge impact on the horses’ welfare. Hot, humid or very cold conditions impede the animals’ hard work even more. Especially in combination with too little excess to water, it has already happened several times that carriage horses collapsed in the middle of the street.
Urban carriage horses are purely a tourist attraction—not a necessity. Given the many documented health and welfare issues for the horses, the only sensible solution is to ban them from use. Slowly the laws for using horse-drawn carriages are getting stricter but it is on us to achieve a complete ban of urban horse carriages as tourist attractions.