We get a lot of frequently asked questions about many different aspects of our work to ban horse carriages in Victoria. While we do our best to respond to many of these questions on social media, many questions get asked repeatedly by people who haven’t see our previous responses. We have created this FAQ as a resource for people who want to know our position on various topics related to this issue.
Our position is centered around opposition to animal exploitation and animal cruelty. We do not make specific claims against either carriage company unless they are supported by facts. We practice respectful and open communication, and if the carriage companies can disprove something we have stated, we would be happy to consider changing it based on the evidence.
Why do you want the city of Victoria to ban the horse carriages?
Victoria Horse Alliance was formed to address the issue of animal exploitation and animal cruelty created by having horse carriages operating in Victoria.
Exploitation can generally be defined as the use of another individual, including other animals, for profit or personal gain. This idea stems from the objectification of the other individual as an means to an end, rather than an end in themselves.
We believe that when any individual human or non-human animal are degraded in this manner it injures the integrity of not just that individual, but all in the community.
There are also health concerns related to the use of a bit, which the drivers use to communicate with the horses through pain, and the wear on their legs from walking on the pavement. We have also documented evidence of inhumane foot care which could cause long term damage to the horses, as well as cause them pain and discomfort while working.
There are also many safety concerns that arise due to having large animals that cannot be easily controlled or calmed, if spooked, in the middle of traffic. Nearly, every year for at least the past 20 years there have been accidents with the horse carriages. You can see a list of reported cases here, but this is not all cases.
These are some of the reasons why we are asking the city of Victoria to ban horse carriages from our streets.
If the horses are treated well, isn’t it okay?
This is a common argument made by the horse carriage industry in Victoria who report they treat their horses extremely well. We do not generally believe that they abuse the horses in their care; however, there is evidence of unprofessional, inhumane care being provided to the horses being used in this industry.
Furthermore, animal exploitation is insidious and not blatantly recognizable. This means that while the horses may be cared for, the way in which they are used by the industry is still driven by profit and self-interest.
A good juxtaposition is the rodeo. Cowboys or rodeo workers often claim animals are loved, like family members, and well taken care of. However, they then put these same “family members” into unenviable situations where they are exposed to violence, and are forced to perform.
With the horse carriages, regardless of whether they are well cared for off the street, this does not excuse profiting off them for personal gain as a tourist attraction. Furthermore, every year the carriages are involved in accidents in the streets and are directed through traffic with a bit using pain as a communication tool. This is not comfortable or caring treatment of the horses and another reason why how they are taken care of off the street is only half the story.
Didn’t the horses pass a vet check?
Simple answer: Yes? However, that is not the whole story.
Our concerns of animal cruelty were based on the opinions of professional, certified, and journeyman farriers. Farriers are horse feet specialists.
You don’t go to your regular doctor to get your teeth examined, you go to a teeth specialist who is the dentist. Similarly, a vet isn’t necessarily experienced with horses feet to properly assess issues that could cause long-term damage to the horse. That is why we went to a qualified farriers, not just a vet. They have explained to us why the current work being done on the horses feet could be causing them pain, discomfort, and damage.
Unfortunately, the carriage operators have not taken this evidence seriously and do not acknowledge that the work being done on their horses feet has been described as “abysmal” by these qualified farriers.
Aren’t horse carriages a part of our history though?
Yes, people have been using horses for thousands of years. However, because something is a part of history does not excuse it from moral re-consideration and change.
A great many social injustices have been challenged throughout history. Many of these include how humans treat other humans and how humans treat non-humans. It is the status quo argument of those who fear or resist change, even if it is related to the freedom of another, that usually center around preserving history, or the way things are now.
While the carriage industry would like to frame the use of horses in the streets as a romantic notion, the truth is that historically there was a great deal of violence against horses in this context, as there still is today in many places. This is not the history that the horse carriage industry defends though, they choose the version that is more comfortable. However, by the same argument that horse carriages are a part of history and should be preserved, this violence against horses could also be justified.
We do not accept this argument for animal exploitation, or violence and oppression against any individual.
What history does show us is that perception and behaviour invariably change, the question is whether we will be stuck trying to mix an antiquated and ethically unconscionable mode of transportation in with modern forms. Perception and behaviour often change according to need or social moral repugnance to a practice. When we consider the horse carriages in this context, there is no need for them in our city and for many there is an impetus to see the horse carriages banned due to a social distaste for public displays of animal exploitation. There will always be people who want to preserve the horse carriages for their own interest or nostalgia; however, we ask people to set this aside and consider the interests of the horses first.
Aren’t the horses bred for this kind of work?
In many cases yes, these horses were bred to be daft horses, coming from the Old English term ‘dragan’ which means to “haul” or “pull.”
Does this excuse animal exploitation? No.
If the argument for exploitation of non-human animals is simply that “they are bred for it,” we leave open any animal for abuse, exploitation, and killing by the same reasoning. By this argument, the horse slaughter industry, or any industry that kills animals for food, could also justify their degrading of animals into commodities because they are bred for it.
Another problem with this argument is that it perpetuates a cycle established by horse use industries of breeding animals that are made to be used. There is no purpose for them except for those given to them by their owners. Horses are bought and sold like commodities in this industry to suite buyers needs. Horse riding, racing, breeding, and showing are all connected by the thread of animal exploitation. People use the horses to acquire profit or prestige, they care for the horses because they provide them some value in these contexts, not because they believe horses deserve to have their own interests served.
If there was a ban, what would happen to the horses?
If there is a ban of the horse carriages in Victoria we will do everything in our power to make sure they go to good homes or sanctuary if the carriage companies decide they can no longer keep them.
We have invited the carriage companies to work with us on re-homing the horses in the event that a ban is passed and they need to be re-homed. There is no reason this cannot be achieved if we work together and put the interests of the horses first.
It is also a possibility, if absolutely needed, that the horses could be surrendered to the BCSPCA if the carriage companies felt that they could no longer provide care for the horses due to them not working. The BCSPCA would then find suitable homes for them.
Horses can live upwards of 30 years and require a great deal of food, care, exercise to stay healthy. We realize that their lives will not just stop when they are taken off the street and we are committed to making sure our advocacy for them continues if our main goal of a ban is implemented.
Will the horses be sent to slaughter if they don’t work?
Unfortunately, the horse slaughter industry continues to grow in Canada and abroad; however, despite some conflicting reports carriage companies have said that none of their horses are sent to slaughter.
We are happy to hear this, but are eager to learn more about the horses lives after they are “retired” from the carriage industry in Victoria. We have been invited to discuss this further with carriage companies in the future and look forward to taking them up on this offer.
You can learn more about the Canadian horse slaughter industry from the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition.
Have you even worked with horses?
We get asked this a lot and the answer is not so straight forward.
First of all, we have members who have worked with horses and some who have not. We share knowledge and experience to inform our decisions and statements, so that we may be most effective for the horses.
Asking if we have worked with horses is a also a bit of a red-herring, a statement which is misleading or misdirecting, because it is not necessary to have worked with horses to identify animal exploitation. This would be similar to someone who works at the Vancouver Aquarium asking animal advocates if they have worked with cetaceans to justify their position that whales do not belong in captivity. This argument fails in the same way when the carriage companies use it.
We understand that those who support the carriage industry don’t like our position, but whether a particular individual in our organization has worked with or owned horses is a weak argument that is meant only to distract from the issue at hand.