Horses and the Heat: Is That All There Is At Play Here?

The horse carriage debate is in the news again after a video went viral showing a carriage horse outside during a hot weather suspension.

Posted to Youtube on July 2nd, the video shows carriage driver and industry spokesperson, Christina Hansen dropping off passengers more than an hour after the NYPD issued a city mandated suspension for high temperatures. Though the video was only 59 seconds long, NYCLASS held a protest the next day, calling for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to revoke Hansen’s license.

Christina Hansen explained to The New York Post that she picked up passengers shortly before 1 p.m. and did not realize there was a suspension. “I believed myself to be in compliance with the law, I never received notice of suspension from the police officer or anyone else.” said Hansen, adding that a mounted police officer did not inform her of the suspension.

Animal rights groups are saying that the driver was not acting on the best interest of the horse and broke the law by staying out so long after a suspension was put into effect. The discourse of articles and social media chatter seems to have focused around the temperature of that day and if a law was broken.

According to weather reports for July 2nd, temperature for the 10019 zip code (around Central Park) was 89 degrees fahrenheit with 59% humidity at 12:04 p.m. Then at 1:04 p.m. the temperature was 88 degrees with 61% humidity and rose to 90 degrees with 55% humidity at 2:03 p.m. The NYPD suspended carriage horse operations at 12:37 p.m. and the video was timestamped at 1:54 p.m. While some might believe that 90 degrees should not be an issue for a horse, it is the cumulative index of temperature and humidity that can cause problems.

A publication by the New Mexico State University explains that the heat index is the combination of temperature and humidity (i.e. 90°F and 20% relative humidity = 110 heat index) to give a means of evaluating whether the environmental conditions poses a threat of hyperthermia (heat stroke) for horses. Jason L. Turner, an Extension Horse Specialist for the university states that if the heat index is less than 130, then the horse’s are usually capable of dissipating the excess body heat generated during exercise. However, if the heat index is greater than 150, the horse will need help to prevent heatstroke. Turner warns that, “Owners should proceed cautiously when, or seek alternatives to, exercising horses in situations where the HI is greater than 170 or the relative humidity is above 75% since these conditions severely diminish the effectiveness of the horse’s thermoregulatory systems.”

Basing off of this information, the heat index around 1 p.m. was at 149 and at 2 p.m. it was 145. While not above 170, the numbers still posed a risk for heat stroke in horses. In Health, Safety and Well-Being of Rental Horses from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene adds on that, “Whenever the air temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above and/or the wet bulb temperature is 85 degrees Fahrenheit or above all rental horses must immediately cease working, be offered shade when available, be rested and cooled off, and then walked to their stable.”

So, why go into detail about the temperature when so many other articles have already focused heavily on that aspect? It is because after scouring the comment sections on multiple news sites, I saw many people brushing off the temperature as, “not that hot” or relaying stories of horses working in higher temperatures. These comments are a poor attempt at downplaying the effects of the temperature on the carriage horses because, irregardless of opinions on what is hot or not, New York City law states that it was hot.

Now, let’s go on to explore whether the law was broken. NYC Administrative Code 17-330 states that no horse is to be worked when the air temperature is 90 degrees fahrenheit or above. It also adds that if the temperature goes above 90 degrees during the course of a ride, then at the ride’s end the operator must stop working, move the horse to an area of shelter, rest the horse and then walk it directly to its stable.

Many more comments on social media claim that the drivers have to be handed a written notice of the suspension to each driver as stated by Code 17-330. The code actually states that, “No violation of this subdivision shall occur unless a written warning of violation is first issued by the authorized enforcement personnel to the operator…” This is for drivers who are already violating the law. A written notice must first be issued as a warning and only when they fail to comply with the warning are they issued a formal violation. Hansen was not issued a written warning of violation (not a written letter of the suspension a some comments claimed). Going by this, technically no law is considered broken.

However, there is a question of whether the horse’s best interests are really in the minds of the carriage industry. The DOHMH weather provides a weather alert system for horse drivers by sending email alerts during extreme weather. states, “alerts can be a useful tool for all horse drivers, horse owners and stable owners.” Considering the fact that most people use smartphones and that the system is advertised for carriage drivers, the alerts would allow the drivers to know if they are complying with the temperature regulations. By following these alerts, drivers can make the choice of whether to take passengers on an hour long ride or a shorter, 20 minute one. Clearly, Code 17-330 was broken later that night when a carriage horse was left standing outside in torrential rain (there had been thunderstorms since around 6 p.m. that day).

July 3 2014 Carriage Horse

Photo c/o Twitter

This all brings up a more important but overlooked question: why was there no enforcement of the law? Christina Hansen stated that a mounted police officer was next to her but failed to mention any notice of the suspension. If this is the case, then it is a failure from the NYPD as a whole in enforcing the law. Since January 2014, the ASPCA closed shop on it’s Humane Law Enforcement division, leaving the responsibility on the NYPD. The ASPCA law enforcement division handled 4,000 investigations annually, made one arrest per week, and took in tens of thousands additional abuse reports that came through the hotline. While the NYPD has a much bigger force than the ASPCA did, the pilot program was only focused on the Bronx for a four month period before implementing it for the rest of the city.

The NYPD had yet to actually set the program in motion almost a month after the pilot program ended. A major concern by many is that animal related cases will be put on a low priority status. “If they think they can just give this to regular police officers and have them handle it, they’re crazy – It’s hard work. It’s different work. It’s important work. And it’s sad that the ASPCA isn’t doing it anymore.” said David Favre, an expert on animal law at Michigan State University.

The situation is complicated even more since code 17-330 requires a “state-of-the-art thermometer” to measure the temperature before calling a suspension of carriage horses. When the ASPCA was the primary enforcers, they were the ones with access to this thermometer and now the NYPD has access to it, but an officer has to physically be sent out to record the numbers.

By making the NYPD take over animal related complaints, this arrangement has effectively added on multiple layers of required training and personnel. Officers have to be trained to handle animal related complaints, equip/hire more workers to take on the additional calls coming in, and physically go out to maintain the welfare of animals (as in the case for taking temperatures of the streets for carriage horses). Lack of enforcement of animal related crimes might not necessarily be the fault of the NYPD since their plate is already full with human on human crimes.

Since there has been no legislation dealing with the horse carriage industry, and to actually get some sort of progress done, animal rights activists should focus on the why and how of an incident. If laws are poorly enforced then that law will have very little impact on what it is supposed to protect. Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to follow up on his promise of a ban on carriage horses and he has made no moves in regards to regulations. More pressure should be put on Mayor de Blasio, who should be reminded of his campaign promise and, if he is going to take too long on legislation, what else can he do in the meantime for animals. People should focus on demanding that a separate division of the NYPD be formed to handle the new responsibilities of animal related crimes with trained officers and personnel on the specifics of animal crime and law. This will be more beneficial to animals and to the city in the long run, especially if the mayor fails to make good on his promises, than asking for one driver to have their license revoked.

Featured image courtesy of NYCLASS Facebook page.

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