In NYC the NYC Horse and Carriage Association is actually filing a formal complaint against the ASPCA since it is both lobbying in politics to get the carriage horses removed AND responsible for law enforcement- really you can't do both and still remain neutral to press charges on someone. Even the veterinarian that did the necropsy on the carriage horse that unexpectedly died in NYC in October 2011 had to admit that she had suffered "undue pressure" to say he was suffering just before his death and was forced to amend her necropsy report.
I have read articles on most of the accidents lately- and they seem to be a bit of a witch hunt on carriage horses. A horse stumbles or trips and they report it as collapsing- one article I've seen is even counting how many times horses were reported to have stumbled which isn't very fair IMO. How often have any of us been riding and had a horse trip or stumble or slip? Even if it was a car and not an animal- cars slip too. Nothing in life is foolproof.
The carriage drivers sometimes take horses from the Amish but they also take them from the Slaughter houses- horses that are deemed to be healthy enough to work and would otherwise die. Frankly- if I were the horse- I would rather survive in Central Park pulling a carriage then wind up being just so much horse meat.
NYC Carriage Horses: Politics, Cruelty and Hope
I live just outside of NYC and to think that the horses have to deal with the traffic (at least in NYC) really isn't true. Most of the day they spend either inside the park (where traffic isn't allowed) or alongside it waiting for a customer.
When they are heading back from the park there still isn't really a risk from people speeding- almost all of the streets are one-way and there is so much traffic that the drivers of motor vehicles don't have a choice but to go slow. On top of that if the drivers don't respect the horse there are cops like every ten feet (especially around landmarks like Central Park and all those landmark buildings and museums near it) so people are hesitant to be obnoxious.
My parents actually took a ride once on their anniversary and spoke with the driver about the horse- it was the horse's first day on the job. (Coincidentally enough the horse's name was Dublin and the guy was an immigrant from Dublin, Ireland.) They were told he was previously an Amish carriage horse and was retired from that job and sold to be a Central Park carriage horse. My mother was very impressed with how calm he was given it was his first day. (We saw the driver and the horse later on TV in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in NYC a few months later- he was driving Mary Higgins Clark as the Grand Marshall of the parade.)
Mary Higgins Clark Pictures - 250th Annual New York City St. Patrick's Day Parade - Zimbio
They told us that especially with all the different sites and sounds and smells, etc, they worked hard to help the horse adjust to all the chaos. I go into the city a lot and in order to get to many of the museums that I frequent you have to walk through or alongside Central Park- so you see the carriage horses.
None of the horses I have ever seen even cared about all the noises. In all the times I have walked by I haven't ever seen an accident or any kind of problem at all- even a horse spooking. The only thing I have ever seen is the horses standing and waiting or walking/trotting calmly along their route to/from one of the stable or through the park.
I have to say though in any situation accidents DO happen but most of the times the drivers are very careful to keep the horses safe.
I haven't heard about a horse being hit by a car but there was a horse that dropped dead unexpectedly in October of 2011 that was new to NYC and had only been "on the job" for a month. The necropsy found that he most likely had underlying health problems that likely caused the death. Officials had said that the horse was examined less than 3 months previous to the death and "passed" his exam whatever that means. The veterinarian involved however had to amend her initial necropsy report that said he was "suffering" just before his death after she admitted that she had been under "undue pressure" from the ASPCA and others.
I DO feel badly for the horses- the lack of green grass and such especially on a daily basis- but IMO it is better than the alternative. Carriage driving gives horses that might otherwise be unwanted a niche to survive. To ban carriage driving because you don't trust drivers really is somewhat akin to cutting your nose off to spite your face- the horse will probably wind up euthanaized since the carriage drivers are taking cheap, unwanted horses to fill their needs- and the horses that DO run into the idiot drivers who are careless will still be at risk.
If drivers are putting horses at risk- TEACH the drivers to use common sense. MAKE them use the knowledge or pay the price!
Even if they weren't carriage horses that still doesn't guarantee they would get time in a good place with lots of space to run around. There are much worse places for a horse to be than in a place that makes sure they have good vet care and plenty of food. The driver we spoke to additionally said that they also regularly (I believe its at least every week?) go outside NYC to be a "normal horse" in a place where they can stretch their legs and run around. I forget how often honestly- but I also think I remember being told that they when they go outside the city it is generally for longer periods in exchange for dealing with the hustle and bustle of Central Park.
We have to remember- a lot of animal rights activists don't think its right for horses to be kept at ALL- they think they should be wild and free- never to be restrained by rein or saddle, kept in a stable or enclosure. Green grass, sand, dirt or city stable- a lot of the loudest activists are quiet about it.
There have been a lot of fingers pointing at the Humane Societies too considering that they advertise that they want to "save" animals- and they're euthanasia rate is sometimes 70% or higher! (Talk about busted.)