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New York Artist Raises Awareness for Carriage Horses

Peter Max calls for an end to horse-drawn carriages

  • Peter Max's portrait of former carriage horse Bobby II Freedom brought in thousands of dollars to benefit horses in need.

by Julie Hauserman

Iconic pop artist Peter Max has a vision: Instead of live horses pulling carriages through New York City's traffic, a humane alternative will take their place—perhaps an eye-catching fleet of electric-powered, pop-art mechanical horses.

"My studio is five or six blocks away from Central Park, where all the carriage horses are," says Max, whose psychedelic artwork first burst onto the cultural scene in the 1960s, earning him worldwide acclaim that endures today.

1/6/14 Update: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's is championing legislation that would immediately retire the city's carriage horses. The HSUS is offering lifelong, loving care to some of these long-suffering horses at our Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch and Duchess Sanctuary. Read more »

Inhumane conditions on and off the roads

Max and his wife, Mary (a member of The Humane Society of the United States' Board of Directors), are among many people who believe there is no way to operate the horse carriage rides humanely in the chaotic New York City streets. The horses breathe exhaust from car tailpipes for 8 or 9 hours a day, the hard pavement damages their hooves, and they are often spooked by loud noises.

In 2007, the City Comptroller's Office released an independent audit documenting the inhumane conditions in which carriage horses live and work. The report states that horses are forced to stand in their own waste and lack adequate water and protection from the elements. A follow-up report in 2009 found the industry was hardly trotting towards improvement but instead continuing its failure in meeting these most basic of needs.

Watch the Video: The Reality of the Horse Drawn Carriage

During the past 10 years, there have been a number of accidents and deaths involving carriage horses in New York and other cities. Recognizing the issues of safety and animal welfare, Paris, London, Beijing, and several U.S. cities have banned or strictly limited carriage horses from their streets.

The Humane Society of the United States is working in support of New York City Council bill Intro. 86, which would prevent horses from being sent to slaughter and create a more humane industry by phasing out the carriages and replacing them with eco-friendly antique show cars, while creating better-paying jobs and improved work conditions for New Yorkers.

Freedom for Bobby

When Max first saw a photograph of Bobby II Freedom, he said, "I want to paint that horse."

Max wanted to help raise awareness about the plight of carriage horses, so he did what he knows how to do best: paint. He crafted a gorgeous, multicolored portrait of a carriage horse named Bobby II Freedom—a horse with a harrowing story.

Bobby II Freedom spent years pulling tourists through New York day after day. When he could no longer perform as a carriage horse, the 15-year-old gelding was sent to auction in Lancaster, Pa., last summer. He was days away from being shipped off to die in a foreign slaughterhouse when a compassionate horse lover came to his rescue.

He was saved by Susan Wagner, head of Equine Advocates, a sanctuary for abused and condemned horses in upstate New York. She raised money to rescue the former carriage horse and bring him back to her sanctuary where he could live out his life in comfort and peace.

"The first thing he did when we turned him loose was roll," Wagner told the New York Daily News. "That's very natural for a horse, but it's something New York City carriage horses just don't get to do."

Raising awareness for rescued horses

Max's portrait sold at auction for $12,000. He donated the proceeds to the Henry Street Settlement, a nonprofit social services organization on New York City's lower East Side.

The Henry Street Settlement is splitting the donation with Equine Advocates and plans to take young people who live in New York City on field trips to the upstate horse sanctuary to meet rescued horses and learn more about animals and the outdoors.

A dedicated animal advocate, Max believes that we need a revolution to change the way people treat animals in our culture.

"It is going to take tremendous cultural education and evolution to change," says Max. "We need to stimulate people's minds that animals are just like us—they love each other and they love breathing in and out the way we do. They love being alive every day, whether it is a little ant crawling up a tree or whether it is an elephant. They love the sun and to be alive."

As for Bobby II Freedom, he's now enjoying the companionship of seven other geldings in a huge pasture at Equine Advocates in Chatham, New York. He and the other rescued horses are finally allowed to do what comes naturally—bask in the sun, munch on sweet grass, and breathe clean air.

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