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Nov. 22, 2019 | Friday
Local News
Opinion: Stopping for a conversation with the horse protesters
A protester holds an anti-carriage sign. (Richard Harley/Niagara Now)


While enjoying a walk on Canada Day, I was jolted and bemused by the sight of three placard waving individuals protesting the horse-drawn carriages parked beside the Prince of Wales Hotel.

Seeing these much-beloved icons of NOTL being so brashly opposed brought me up short and I felt it only fair to hear the demonstrators’ arguments. Perhaps they had sleuthed out some horrific animal cruelty. I needed to know.

I approached the nearest two picketers; let’s call them Anna and Brenda. Anna informed me they opposed the cruel exploitation of animals for profit. Brenda added the animals were forced, without their consent, to walk in dangerous traffic, sometimes in very hot weather.

I was startled. “Whoa, there’s a lot to unpack there,“I exclaimed. “The animals look well-fed and cared for, and have never suffered injury. What is this cruelty of which you speak?”

Anna admitted, grudgingly, the horses were indeed well-fed and cared for. Still, it was cruel to force them to work under such conditions, and without their written consent. (She didn’t say written, I just made that up. But she might as well have.)

I needed to parse their argument. Would they be satisfied if the horses simply didn’t operate on extremely hot days? “Absolutely not!” Brenda thundered, her voice shaking. “It must be a total ban!”

So I pressed on. “You mentioned the issue of profit. If that’s your concern, would you be okay if the carriages were nonprofit rather than running on a business model? Or if they donated all their profits to charity?” Once again, Anna and Brenda would not be mollified by such half-measures.

“Alright, hot weather and profit are your talking points, but they’re obviously not the issue. So perhaps,” I suggested helpfully, “your real issue is the traffic danger involved. Would the horses be safer still if the carriages came equipped with bigger warning signs and reflectors?”

Once again, Anna squirmed but still bristled. She knew as well as anyone the industry’s safety record in NOTL was unblemished. By this point she was eager to disengage from further dialogue. “Look,” she said, “obviously you disagree with our position, so why don’t we agree to disagree and you just move along?”

I explained this was premature; I needed to clarify her argument further before deciding if I agreed or disagreed with it. Perhaps she still had terrific arguments which would convince me that opposing horse-drawn carriages was some new front in the war against slavery and oppression.

Was she opposed to all forms of working animals “for profit”? Or just this particular animal and this particular work? Anna hesitated. “We are opposed to the exploitation of animals for profit,” she parroted, leaving me to ponder the career implications on future generations of seeing-eye dogs, sheepdogs, oxen, milk cows and pirates’ parrots, some of whom already face diminished work opportunities.

“But if the carriages stopped rolling tomorrow, what should become of the horses?” I asked.

Anna informed me the horses should be placed in a pasture or reserve, and allowed to live out their natural days in bucolic idleness, freed from the rigours of human-induced labour. Humans could feed them when food was scarce, but presumably only if they consented to do so. Although I was pretty sure Anna and Brenda would be there to protest if they didn’t.

This did indeed sound like horse heaven. But paradise comes at a cost, and as my ancestors were fond of saying, “talk is cheap, but it takes money to buy good whiskey.” So I asked if we might expect a cash contribution from them anytime soon to turn their dream into reality. Despite their obvious zeal, I was unable to persuade either Anna or Brenda to write a cheque to subsidize this horse Nirvana.

“They’re not our horses,” Brenda scoffed. “It’s up to their owners to create a horse preserve for them, at their expense.”

A beautiful sentiment indeed. But one doesn’t have to be Nostradamus to predict the outcome of Anna’s idealistic equine vision – that more horses would be put down. So much for reducing animal cruelty!

It is good to see young people display idealism and purpose. I admire it, I really do. I only wish this particular group would focus their energy on selecting more critical wrongs to right, and on thinking through the foreseeable effects of their proposed policies.

The world is awash in serious problems to tackle. If these folks share a passion and concern for horses, why do they not picket racetracks, where race horses by the score are being injured and euthanized every year? What have they done to address the deplorable conditions on some poultry, hog and dairy factory farms? Clearly these are far more egregious examples of “animal cruelty” “for profit.”

Were I young again, and had but one summer to devote to furthering the cause of animal welfare, I wouldn’t waste it attacking a small family business that has brought joy to many and never harmed a horse.

* Graham McMillan is a NOTL resident with little patience for specious arguments about speciesism.