Life as a Carriage Horse

I'd like to introduce you to "Duke." Duke is owned by a friend of mine here in Arkansas, and I know the horse well. It's obvious by all the stuff he has on him that he's a carriage horse, which the lunatics have been making a big noise about being so cruel and inhumane for horses. Let me tell you about Duke, and then you can decide for yourself how horrible his life is. OK?

If a person owns something that makes money, that has value, that person is going to take good care of it so that it can keep making money, right? Even if that thing doesn't make money but serves a big purpose in life, for instance a car, then a person is going to take care of it so that it can keep making those trips between Point A and Point B. It's just common sense.

The second point to make is that the first point is a generalized statement. Is it true in every single case? No, but it's pretty safe to say that, for the most part, it's broadly accepted as the truth. What PETA has done in the case of carriage horses is make such a big noise about those one or two instances that don't fit into the broadly accepted generalized truth to the point where people begin to think of those random instances instead of the broadly accepted generalized truth. Ah, the power of advertising and publicity!

The life of a carriage horse is pretty sedate. In the morning they are fed and watered, then the harness goes on and they are hitched to the carriage. In larger outfits, a horse might 'work' 3 to 4 days a week, then have the rest of the week off. Once hitched, they head out to their work station where they stand, waiting for customers. Once customers decide they want a relaxing tour of the metro area, the horse heads off at a slow, cadenced walk around a block or two. Back at the work station, they lock their knees and promptly fall asleep.

"Oh, but it's so terrible for a horse to be around all that traffic and all those people!" and "All those people in the carriage must be really heavy!" and "That horse has to stand up all day." and "Boy, is that horse sweating!"

If I were a horse, I wouldn't be a carriage horse because I can't stand to be in cities, in traffic or around a lot of people. The horses that can't stand it either aren't chosen to be carriage horses. Plain and simple. A carriage horse is a "dead head" and "bomb proof." They don't react to the things that would cause other horses to turn tail and get the hell out of Dodge. Horses are born with this particular trait, which is why you will see most carriages pulled by large and steady draft breeds.

Oh, that heavy carriage bit really gets me. I am 5 foot 3 inches tall, overweight and way out of shape. The heaviest carriage my friend owns runs around 1,200 pounds, and I've pushed the thing myself quite a few times and quite a distance. No, I couldn't push it up the ramps and into the trailer myself, mostly because I couldn't keep it on the ramps, but my friend has. Trust me, those things roll easy! If they didn't, horse-drawn carriages wouldn't be possible to begin with. A horse will give up if the weight they are trying to pull doesn't move. Once a horse gives up, then you have a ruined carriage horse.

A horse is a prey animal, meaning their biggest form of self-defense, of survival is flight. You can't flee from a mountain lion wanting supper if you're laying down sound asleep. So, a horse sleeps standing up, thanks to the locking mechanism in the front legs. The eyes stay open and the ears stay on alert, and that drooping lower lip is the only thing that lets you know that the horse is asleep. Horses sleep in about 20 minute spans, and only need to go into a full sleep - laying down, stretched out and dreaming away - about once a week, and again, it's not for very long. Because of this, horses prefer to be out in the open. If left to decide for themselves, a horse would not go into a barn!

Horses are also lazy, which is another survival mechanism. They are the master of energy conservation so that they can flee whenever threatened. Horses that are required to work, expending energy to do their task, will fall right asleep to recharge their battery as soon as the opportunity arises. So, when a carriage horse comes back from taking a load of people on a short jaunt, it will cock a hind foot and fall right asleep. Look for that drooping lower lip.

When it's hot out, dogs pant, people pit out their shirts, and horses sweat. A horse sweats for the same reason that you and I sweat. The damp surface area is cooled by evaporation and a breeze. A horse will also breathe a bit harder because it is breathing out hot air and breathing in cool air. It's all built into the horse's physiology, and the same warning signs apply to horses as they do to humans. You look for signs of dehydration and cool skin, and you know you're looking at heat stroke. It's not rocket science!

My friend bought Duke a few years ago, from a trader in New England. Duke is half, if not full, Percheron, one of the draft breeds. He was a former New York City carriage horse, and when he arrived, he had his license number carved into one front hoof. The horse trader didn't know why he was retired, or I don't remember, but said he was also trained to ride.

After a few weeks of giving Duke the time to adjust to his new surroundings, my friend hooked him up to a cart. He's a "push button" horse, very well trained, and he knows his job very well. She's pulled Duke's shoes and he does his jobs wearing boots that look like sneakers made for horses. He now works one or two days a weekend and spends the rest of the time romping in the pasture, getting fat and sassy on good hay and feed.

Back around Thanksgiving, I went out to the pasture to hang out with Duke and Earl, another white carriage horse, once it became too overwhelming for me to be in the house with all the people there. I sat down on the ground, and Duke stood over me and promptly feel asleep. I wiggled over and used his front legs as a back rest and got some shut-eye myself. It's not often you'd find a horse so trusting and trustworthy as that, and I'd have to say he's a danged happy horse.

Just look at that photo and tell me he doesn't know he's awesome to look at and he's proud to do his job! Does he look neglected or mistreated in any way? You can learn more about Duke and Earl at The Princess's Carriage.

Think about this the next time you run into anything from those lunatic PETA people. Here's their attempt to 'prove' their point. I don't get it.


  1. Here's a generalized statement for ya:

    I wish all of those tree hugging PETA lovin' doofuses would take a long walk off of a short pier.

  2. I just finished a book called "The Loop" and the author calls them "bunny huggers." I think that fits better than calling them "tree huggers," don't you? Well, at least it makes a little more sense to me... LOL

    As soon as it turns into extremism, the validity of the argument is shot to hell. Bible-thumpers, tree/bunny huggers, right-to-lifers, the KKK, etc. would do well to think about that one!

  3. As the owner of "The Princess's Carriage" a showman, judge, and life long horse owner/ lover, I can tell you without reserve that carriage horses are in no way neglected, abused, mistreated, or otherwise treated unfairly.

    Since much of what we do is being a part of someones wedding,you just dont see thin, hungry, or dirty horses. No banged up carriages, grimey harness, or even a poorly dressed drivers. If you do then what you are seeing is not the standard of excellence that is normally demanded of this industry.

    A job that is all about the presentation can not survive on half baked care in any aspect of what they do and stay in business.

  4. And that, folks, is straight from the horse's mouth! You can meet Karen, her family and her horses at The Princess's Carriage. Go ahead and see what she's talking about, put it together with what I said, and decide for yourself just how "inhumane" a horse-drawn carriage service is.

  5. The horse in the photo is obviously in super shape. I also think PETA is a pretty ridiculous group. I do, however, think that the life of a carriage horse varies with the owner and the rules in the city where the horse works. In Charleston SC we took a tour and learned that the carriage horses don't come out when it is over 105 degrees. That seems a bit high to me for a cold-weather animal to be working. That said, the horses looked pretty good the days we saw them.

  6. Stacey, thank you for your input - it means a lot coming from someone deep in the "industry" as you are.
    Don't forget about all the horses all over the US that do just fine. My horse, for instance, came from ND, and he came with a 5 inch winter coat! Living in upstate NY, it wasn't that much of a change for him. But, when we moved down to Arkansas, that thick and long winter coat wasn't needed any longer, and now only grows in half as much for the winters here. I threw his lightweight turnout blanket on him during that ice storm, and that was it. And, he has a much easier time dealing with the summer heat than I do!

  7. Years ago when the York fairground let the horses board there a really nice lady kept her carriage horse there also and since I was over there all the time I know how well cared for her horse was, she also did weddings and other events and the horse was by no means over worked and people had to book well in advance because she made sure she was never overbooked and only did a few events a week.

  8. Hi Jude! I think you'll find the same thing with any small outfit - the horses very well taken care of and not stressed in any way. PETA has made enough noise over the years to make the NYC carriage industry very closely regulated by the ASPCA and other watchdog type agencies. They are watched so closely that no horse works under poor conditions. It's like PETA is never satisfied!

    Like Paul said, they should take a long walk off a short pier.

  9. Great post! Hopefully you have enlightened a few peta members to some pertinent facts. :)

  10. I was thinking that it would probably be more effective to 'enlighten' the general public instead of the whackos - that way, no one would fall for PETA bullcrap.

  11. Very well thought out and very well presented post. I have been in the horse industry for almost 30 years and have seen both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. You are absolutely right that you will have the few idiots out there who do not take care of their animals properly, but if you delve into their lives past their animals you will also find they do not manage they lives properly either.

    Duke is very handsome and looks very proud to do his job. Kudos to his owner who obviously has done a fine job of caring for him.


  12. Hi Kara - I believe you are right about the ones who neglect or abuse also show signs of dysfunction in their lives as well. We know more than a few like that, unfortunately.

  13. Woohoo!! Great post, thank you so much, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Nice horse, too :-)

    27 years in the NYC carriage biz, I can tell you that the pleasures of finding like-minded people are few and far between.

  14. Oops, sorry, forgot to offer you my blog (buckle your seatbelts LOL:


  15. TheWhiffleTreeNYC looks great and is a great read, Mr. Flynn!

    You'll always find a realistic opinion around here, so I do hope you'll stop back again!

  16. Why, thank you, Theresa!

    BTW - I'm not "Mr. Flynn" lol....that pic is actually Barry Fitzgerald, one of my fave actors of all time, and 'Michaleen Flynn' is the character he portrayed int he movie The Quiet Man, 1952, with John Wayne & Maureen O'Hara

    The unfortunate reason for needing a nom de plume is that the humaniacs have threatened and harassed us for years, and I need to protect my identity in order to protect my family. Sad but true.

    But in any event, thank you for the warm welcome, I will be back for certain!

  17. Well, Mr. Flynn you be! Yes, the humaniacs have gone off the deep end on more than one occasion, and I don't doubt they have threatened you. Now that they have come up with, what was it?, "sea kittens" and perverting the minds of children, I see no alternative but to transport the whole lot to the moon!

    I am a horse lover who loves to ride, I own a horse, and like most true horsemen, my horse is taken care far better than my house and myself! I have no doubt that you also care for your horses and watch that they are comfortable and able to do their job day after day.

  18. Hi Theresa,

    I sent you an email, I enjoyed this article and I was hoping to get permission to republish this article on our website at ultimatehorsesite.com


  19. By all means, Annamaria! Thank you for asking!

  20. As a rider,owner, and trainer of many horses, I have only seen 2 cases of "abuse". That is it.PETA has no knowledge of horses let alone the anatomy of a horse. I wish they would just stay with the tree's and leave the real horse enthusiast's make a sound if there was truly something wrong. Duke looks just last a draft should. My uncle owns a Perchron and he is about the same weight and almost 17 hands, he also pulls carriage for family events ( such as my birthday). He is fat and happy and breeds with pretty much any mare he pleases. PETA please keep your nonsense to yourself if you dont know what your talking about.

  21. GREAT post.....
    My youtube channel shows how our NYC carriage horses REALLY live. My vids show our state of the art stables, our farms where they vacation and retire, our horses at work, our rules and regulations, and there are even a few vids of the crazies harassing us! Wheres their PROOF of the horrible lies they tell? Please watch and enjoy!