Friday, January 23, 2009

Liam Neeson Inserts Hoof In Mouth

Actor disses activists trying to stop carriage horse cruelty in NYC

Being an avid fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I was greatly disappointed that tonight’s guest, acclaimed Irish actor Liam Neeson, spent several minutes mocking the attempts of animal advocates to ban the horse-drawn carriage industry in New York City. Watch the interview here (5th segment).

“I hate how the horse-drawn carriage industry is being attacked nowadays,” he said during the interview segment. “Animal activists, you know, (say) the horses are being treated cruelly because they’re pulling a carriage around half a mile. I mean, these are the fittest, well-fed (sic), best kept horses I’ve ever seen.” And Neesom goes on like this for awhile, raving about how great the horses supposedly have it, and that he knows this because he's visited their luxurious stables and talked to the drivers, and because he’s been “a horse rider and lover for many years.”

A horse lover? Really, Liam? Well, I have to say that willfully denying the overwhelming evidence of tragic suffering endured by equines on the streets of New York City seems a strange way to love horses. And the reason we animal advocates are fighting this infernal industry is not because the horses are “pulling a carriage around half a mile” — to characterize and minimize our valid concerns in this way is offensive to both us and the victims of injustice we are sincerely trying to help. To back up my assertion that New York City's carriage horses are indeed suffering greatly, here are some disturbing facts that Mr. Neesom apparently doesn’t know, or perhaps thinks are irrelevant:

According to an audit by the City Comptroller, the horses used to pull carriages in New York City are subjected to some of the worst conditions of any working animal. In summertime, they are forced to walk on burning asphalt and don't have access to enough fresh water, making heat exhaustion and other more serious problems common. They often trudge along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, breathing exhaust fumes all day long, which causes serious respiratory problems, and constantly walking on hard concrete also contributes to hoof and leg disorders. Horses are often left standing in their own filth due to insufficient drainage systems, and are routinely whipped by drivers to make them move.

In addition, there is no mandatory retirement age for carriage horses, so they can literally be worked to death. Yet most don’t live that long: the average lifespan of a carriage horse in New York City is only 4 years, compared (for example) to 15 years for a mounted Manhattan police horse. This is mostly due to the harsh conditions described above, but also partially because horses are so easily frightened by the loud noises and sudden movements of speeding motor vehicles, and have consequently caused numerous traffic accidents, many of which resulted in horses dying. Finally, when carriage horses are too broken down or injured to work anymore, many are sent to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada where they are killed for meat.

It is for these reasons that a coalition of animal advocates has formed behind legislation introduced by Queens Council Member Tony Avella that would finally ban horse-drawn carriages in New York City. “The romanticized idea of enjoying a carriage horse ride through the streets of Manhattan can no longer justify the risk of serious injury or death to these animals or to the public at large,” said Councilman Avella. “It is time to put the horse driven carriage industry out to pasture.”

A Tradition of Exploitation

Back in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, before New York City's streets were paved and teeming with cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles, the horse-drawn carriage might have been considered an essential form of transportation, sort of like hailing a cab is today. But it’s the 21st century, and carriage horses are now nothing more than an anachronistic tourist attraction in a densely-populated and technologically modernized urban center.

Other major cities around the world — including Paris, London and Toronto — long ago banned horse-drawn carriages from their streets. Yet according to Neesom, we should keep making horses pull carriages in New York City because “they have been there for a hundred years” and “they’re an iconic part of New York.” In a recent letter to the City Council, Neesom also wrote that he is “deeply disturbed by the unnecessary and misguided political and extreme rhetoric against the horse-drawn carriage industry.”

When one considers all the facts, animal advocates are clearly anything but “misguided” and “extreme” in their claims or actions. However, given Neesom's insistence on the matter, I have to wonder: has he researched this issue at all, or is this self-styled “horse lover” just talking out of his ass? I mean, really: how can anyone seriously profess to love horses while actively defending an industry that so egregiously abuses them? Has Neesom no shame, or is he just woefully ignorant? Has he no compassion for suffering animals, or is he merely blind to their misery? For my own and the horses’ sake, I’d very much like to know.

Please attend the City Council Consumer Affairs Committee’s public hearing on Councilman Avella's two bills concerning carriage horses, and consider providing two minutes worth of testimony in support of this humane legislation. The meeting is scheduled to take place on Friday, January 30, 2009, at 10:00 a.m. on the 2nd floor of City Hall.

And if you can’t attend the meeting:

- Please ask Mayor Bloomberg to support the ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York City.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007
Tel: 311 (outside NYC: 212-NEW-YORK)
Fax: (212) 788-2460

- New York City residents: Also contact your City Council member and politely urge them to support Avalla's proposed ban on horse drawn carriages in New York City.

- Post a comment on The Daily Show Web site expressing your opinion of Neesom's performance.

- The horse-drawn carriage industry is mainly supported by tourists, so when friends and family visit New York City, please don't let them get taken for a ride!


  1. Anonymous3:36 AM

    Neelson plans to move into stables

  2. It's amazing that the animal rights group can claim Liam Neeson is misinformed when all they do is spread misinformation about the horse and carriage industry. When the facts don't fit, they make things up. The comptrollers report is filled with factual errors. The Horses always have access to water, and a well cared for. The ASPCA has never cited the industry for cruelty. Not once. The four year lifespan is something someone made up that keeps getting repeated. Our horses live long healthy happy lives. Draft horses need to work, or they become unhealthy. The horses have been examined by several Vets and they are perfectly healthy, some are a little too well fed.

  3. A few things regarding the comment by Gareth:

    He says that animal advocates get the facts wrong and make stuff up. Unfortunately, he doesn't provide many facts or any citations to back up his claims that the horses are treated so great. If, for instance, the average lifespan of a carriage horse is more than 4 years, what is the actual figure? If we're getting the facts wrong, where can we get accurate information?

    Also, just because the horses have been examined by vets and the industry has never been cited for cruelty by the ASPCA, that doesn't mean these animals aren't suffering. Every industry that uses animals – whether it's factory farming, fur farming, puppy mills, medical research & products testing, the circus, horse racing, greyhound racing, etc. – maintains with a straight face that they are strictly regulated, and that their animals are treated just great. Yet the overwhelming evidence proves them to be lying or utterly dissociated from reality and basic human decency. For instance, businesses pay vets to say what they want them to say, and they work hand-in-glove with the regulatory agencies, who for the most part rubber stamp their actions even though they are inhumane. If the regulatory agencies do press charges, it's usually because animal advocates and the community pressured them to, and they have to at least look like they're doing their job when people are really paying attention. Clearly, animal exploiters consistently lie and do all they can to hide their cruelty from the public, so I see no reason to believe that the carriage horse industry is any different.

    Here's an anecdote that reveals a lot about the character of the supposedly “noble” carriage horse industry. A friend of mine told me a story about how he volunteered to document the carriage horses on the streets of Manhattan. As he and another activist videotaped the drivers in action, a couple of goons hired by the industry followed them around. They were big, tall guys, and they would stand next to the activists, shoulder-to-shoulder, staring down threateningly. So, if the carriage horse industry has nothing to hide, why do they pay toughs to intimidate activists who are legally exercising their First Amendment rights?

    Finally, I take it from his comment that Gareth works in the carriage horse industry. So, speaking for myself, I would ultimately ask, who do I trust: someone who is making money from animals and has a financial stake in continuing their livelihood, or activists motivated by empathy who are trying to ensure that horses aren't suffering? As an animal rights advocate, obviously I put a lot more stock in the activists, because the ethical thing is to do what's right for the horses. And I seriously doubt that the carriage horse industry has the horses' best interests in mind, even though they may be thoroughly convinced that they do.

    Since I don't consider myself an expert on this issue, I have emailed the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, the main group working on the campaign in NYC, asking that they post a comment expressing their perspective on Gareth's claims. Hopefully they will have something more substantial to add to this debate.

  4. Anonymous11:42 PM

    carriage driver attacks pedicab
    carriage driver overcharging
    carriage driver goes wild

  5. OK, so it's been a few weeks since I invited the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages to respond to the industry's criticisms in this blog, and they have not done so: more's the pity. However, for those wanting to understand the animal advocacy perspective on this issue, there is a new documentary about the carriage horse industry called "Blinders" which you can read about in the New York Times:

  6. My condolences go out to Liam for the recent death of his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, who was killed recently in a skiing accident. Though we disagree on this issue, I sympathize greatly with his terrible loss.

  7. 1. The comment, "Finally, when carriage horses are too broken down or injured to work anymore, many are sent to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada where they are killed for meat." bothers me because IF the animal rights groups had NOT gotten the slaughter plants IN the U.S. shut down, the horses who end up not finding a home that can use/supposrt them would not be getting shipped on long drives to Mexico or Canada.
    2. In regards to the question, "If, for instance, the average lifespan of a carriage horse is more than 4 years, what is the actual figure?" - I do not know the exact figure of a working carraige horse in NY, but I do know horses and know these figures: a) a horse is not going to BEGIN working until age 3 or 4 at the EARLIEST, and that is IF they started intensive training at an early age. b) a horse can remain in 'good working condition' until upwards of 20 years of age if well taken care of. c) it would not serve in the carriage companies' best interest to NOT get the most out of thier horses by treating them well and taking care of them in the best way possible.