It has been five years since I have been able to write about the Carriage Wars. My anger always burst to the surface about people who want to ban the Horse Carriages in NYC. Every time I want to say something about this topic, I feel the need to explain quite a bit about how and why it is perfectly OK to have carriage horses in New York City. The art of horsemanship is complicated and the subject runs way too deep to distill it in simple talking points. Animal Activists, who know nothing of the true depth of horsemanship, use simple talking points, repeatable and designed to trigger the heart and stomach together. I call it, we, the horse community calls it "slaughter porn." Most horseman hear these talking points and eyes glaze at the simplicity and irrelevance to the actual carriage horse's lives. I say "most" because some riders who think they are horsemen, simply purchase an entertainment product of riding while their trainers reap the paycheck of producing the illusion that the horse they ride is a perfectly happy animal, and they are doing no wrong, and the animal is in the greatest of hands. These horse riders can still be found wanting to ban carriages, because they think they are doing everything right in their pretty barn with their pretty horse.
And chants of "how many horses have to die?" and "nose to tailpipe" and flagrant mis-use of the words "shame", "inhumane" and the most inaccurate of all "abuse" and "cruel", just continue to pour out the mouths of those who want to protect horses. But they don't know how and why it is so vital to keep horses in New York City, and how and why it is not only OK, it's actually more than OK for the health and happiness of those horses who live and work in New York. The Carriage horses are happy, well cared for, and love their work. I know. Animal Activists, who I speak to, out on the protest spots where we both have gathered, ask me in total disbelief, how I can and if I can ACTUALLY TELL if a horse is happy. They just can't believe that I have that ability, as though it's a superhuman talent. They ask me again, " are you saying that you can actually tell if a horse is happy?" I reply again, a simple "yes."
And I want to go on and say, "You can tell too, it's not that hard." But they would have to take some lessons and learn from a horseman to begin that process. And I don't want them at our stables because they are the Un-Persuadables, and everything they see, without even learning about it, will just be their Un-Persuadable evidence that horsepeople are cruel and self serving. And next thing you know, they and fifty of their friends will be making a huge mistake, trying to protect horses by protesting our stables, developers funding them because the stables would make a great spot for another condo. Because I let an Un-Persuadable see something like,.... oh let's just start with the big fat horrors of how horses lay in their own excrement, eat dirt, get shoes nailed to their feet, have torture instruments put in their mouths, get "whipped", get "forced" to do "way too much work", have to live in small stalls, have no freedom to choose their lifestyle.
I am not going to try to argue against any of this anymore. What I have to say takes longer than the juicy two word "horrors." All these so-called terrible things horses are forced to do and withstand have very good reasons to occur that are compassionate, humane, and make horses happy. And it's a long story to explain why this is true. And how to handle all these conditions properly, individually for each horse. Horses are all different, just like us, if you need to anthropomorphize, do it right. Don't just imagine yourself laying in a stall, or pulling a carriage, or carrying a rider, and decide this is not right for a horse. Horses LOVE their stalls, for one thing, no matter what size. Just like we love houses. Or should we all just be homeless and permanently roaming for food, not even a deer hunting stand to shelter in...oh no, that would be too much like a stall. Oh but "Let the horses run free" is what you hear constantly. Nice abstract idea that sounds alot like not wanting "the man" to keep you down. Gee got issues of resentment about being dominated and controlled? Me too. But I don't want to punish good horseman for having and caring for a horse, just because it sorta somewhat feels in an abstract way like being forced to have a day job. I don't have outdoor space in my apartment, and could I use turn-out? Wait till you see the size of my butt, yes. Doesn't mean I am unhappy in my apartment and my sedentary day job. It's right for me. It would not be right for another human who would not like that at all, so that human won't be living in NYC. Surprising how many humans who need to "run free" end up in NYC and learn to love it. Why? Because they were lucky to be employed by great employers. Great horsemen are the same as great employers.
So I have launched a program called "Urban Artists and Riders" specifically to teach my version of Urban Horsemanship. I teach riding and horsemanship together. Not just riding alone. I don't mean to imply that other instructors at Kensington Stables don't teach both together as well, They do. What I want to teach is a version of riding and horsemanship that is particular to the horse in an urban setting. Particular to people who live and work in an urban setting, And not apologize for any lack of jumping, dressage arena, cross-country course, goal of competition in general, let alone heated wash stands and perfectly functioning stall doors, fancy saddles and don't even get me started on fancy outfits for the humans. Just getting a perfect trot transition, and executing a perfect circle, let alone deconstructing your crappy way of sitting the horse, is so hard to do, that thinking you are not "doing much" by working on those things, just tells me you need stimulation. So go ahead and practice your ability to spend the money elsewhere to be stimulated. Meantime my group will never get bored practicing how to do the simplest things better. It's the process, not the show that counts. Artists will know what I mean, mature artists that is.
I hope to write about horses and people together, slowly one small topic at a time as it comes up in the process of teaching. I hope to tie in how the carriage horse's work also can be understood if you want to view horsemanship from this blog. I want to begin to tell the story of how horses can be happy in their work, living in the city. Through teaching my version of riding in an urban environment, I hope to shed light and love about great horsemanship, not anger and defense against those who can't take the time to learn the whole story, and instead choose to feel better about horses by offing themselves on slaughter porn, and afternoon cocktailing on a protest line so they can check off their "helping-the-beautiful-horse-who-can't-speak-for-itself" box.
To quote one of the greatest horsemen I have ever known and have the privilege to work with and for, Walker Blankinship, Owner of Kensington Stables "Anyone who thinks a horse can't speak for themselves is a moron."
It's a blunt quote. It's not all that witty. But it does express to me the exhaustion he and I feel about trying to communicate why urban horses are in their right place. That there is no need to "rescue" them. And how so lucky we all are to have them still with us in this city. And how so lucky we are that Walker believes in keeping prices as affordable as he can, so that even ARTISTS can afford to ride.
Why the "Artist" inclusion in the group? It's a boring story of circumstance, where I had artists coming to the stables to draw the horses once a month. During this time I stopped teaching riding. And then a friend manipulated me back into teaching. And then the artists decided they wanted to ride as well.
The group meets every Saturday night at Kensington Stables after 7pm. This is a rule of thumb for simplicity, this meeting time. I am always there at this time, I may be teaching, I may be working on repairing saddles, or taking care of horses....but I do half expect guests and artists to show up. I want to know who might show up, I don't want Animal Activists on a "Gotcha Mission". Most times it's just us riders. All two or three of us....geeks for detail. Geeks for talking about and listening to the horse that speaks to us every moment, learning the deep levels of just how varied, individual, and murky judgement call all of great horsemanship actually is, and rejoicing that the force of 1200 pounds of will and joy and sense of humor wakes up levels of artistic practice that no inanimate art tool can. And how 1200 pounds channels a new interest in patience and slowness and practicing moving forward without "pat" answers. This is the basis for great art. Those who have grown accustomed to buttons that trigger apps may find this world tedious...but somehow they never do. Horses have a way of making you want to go slow and wait and listen. The reward is an actual happy animal who actually is your friend who actually does want to play with you who is smart enough to want to detect your signals who actually can't wait to see you again. It's true. If an Animal Activist would ever take the time to investigate this, I believe they would no longer want to ban the Carriages.
And the beauty of the group of us is that none of us have to carry the responsibility of owning and exercising a horse all by ourselves. Of committing to regular riding lessons. Who can afford that? Certainly nobody I know. What we do have is a responsibility to learn the specifics of sharing a relationship with an animal, with the rest of the players our group, and the rest of the massive herd that horse belongs to which is the entire human population they see in Prospect Park. That is one of the specifics of Urban Horsemanship I hope to shed light on.
I hesitate to give contact info. Animal Activists have a whole lot of nothing to do other than hunt down, punish and destroy the livelihoods of good horsemen for doing a great job. Call the stables. They will forward you to me, some staff may not have my number, so leave yours. My name is Barbara Stork.