March 21st, 2011 by Barbara Stagno
Of all the useless arguments I’ve heard to defend the carriage horse industry, none is more maddening than the argument of “tradition.” How can anyone think that honoring a tradition can be more important than basic compassion?
Don’t get me wrong. Traditions are important. They give us a feeling of security and connect us to our heritage. But blind adherence to tradition is a dangerous thing, and there are too many examples of traditions that perpetrated great suffering and oppression. These practices continued in the face of much criticism, shielded only by the argument of “tradition.”
For centuries girls in China endured a foot-binding ritual that literally broke their toes and crippled their bodies, but the practice was so ingrained that it continued. It was said that a woman with bound feet was more civilized, disciplined, and dutiful. This abomination continued for 1,000 years, affecting a billion women, before being banned in the 1900s.
In Europe, for over three centuries, hundreds of boys were castrated, many of them by the Catholic Church, so they could sing soprano as adults. Efforts to ban this practice took 150 years because of concern by the Church that it would seriously harm attendance if there were no castrati in the choir.
Such examples are not just historical. In 2004, the British government banned the cruel practice of fox-hunting, even with loud opposition that it was an essential icon of British culture and must continue.
One only need look at those poor horses who are forced to pull carriages day-in, day-out, to see the deep despair in their eyes. What kind of existence is it for a horse to spend his days on the clogged streets of NYC pulling a carriage, followed by nights in a dark stall in a warehouse? Where is the chance to frolic, roll in the grass, or nuzzle another fellow horse?
The truth is, while traditions can be quaint, or comforting, or links to bygone era, there are probably many of them that belong in the dustbin of history. And that’s certainly where horse drawn carriages belong.