I'm a big proponent of natural horsekeeping: barefoot, roughage, turn-out. Frankly put, I think shoes destroy hooves, grains are an unnatural starch and sugar in the equine diet, and the practice of stalling a horse for 23 hours a day can make a horse crazy.
But, I think that humans can do a pretty good job of managing horses' health while using those three practices, and I also think that in our paved-over world, shoes, starch, and stalls are going to remain a necessary reality. We can't just let horses fade out of urban environments, even if it isn't the Garden of Eden ideal for them. Let's face it, it isn't the ideal for cats, either, but I'll bet 90% of the apartments in this city have a cat in them.
Even mine. And I'm not a fan of cats. (I had to pause in the writing of this to get my cat out of the recycling bag.)
It's not easy to find horses in New York City, unless you happen to see a policeman on horseback in Times Square or Central Park. The bridle path in Central Park has been turned over to joggers. The last riding school in Manhattan has been turned over to condos. There is one livery stable in Brooklyn accessible by public transit, the other one is on a spit of land near JFK airport. There are a few in Queens and the Bronx, where it is less dense, but that's a long ride for Manhattan and Brooklyn kids looking to ride.
|flickr of t.shirbert|
Invisible, a Thoroughbred at Kensington Stables. He's a great therapy horse and, as you can see, a crowd-pleaser. Urban horses like this are ambassadors to city-dwellers and needed by horse-crazy kids. They also get more carrots than a rabbit in a petting zoo.
I'm starting to think that keeping horses in the city, despite less-than-ideal conditions (mainly no turn-out and small stalls), is a necessity the way that marine parks keeping whales in concrete tanks is a necessity. It's not beautiful, and it's not natural. But, in the case of the whales they're well-cared-for, they're (apparently) happy, and they're providing an educational out-reach to people that keeps them relevant and encourages sympathy for the rights of wild animals. And in the case of the horses, they can be well-cared-for, happy, and provide everyone, but especially children, an outlet for that deep emotional connection that humans have to horses.
Volunteering with the therapeutic riding program here in Brooklyn has really brought that home to me. No, I'm not a fan of seeing horses in standing stalls, as some of the horses there are living in. But these horses change people's lives. They give speech to children whose autism keeps them silent. They give power and grace to people whose developmental disabilities relegate them to the sidelines of society.
And they also bring joy to children whose bedrooms must look like mine once did, wallpapered with pictures carefully clipped from Horse Illustrated, dancing with plastic Breyer models on every flat surface, cluttered with Marguerite Henry paperbacks.
I'd like to see urban horsekeeping become a more common topic. I'd like to see modern, carefully-run riding schools opening up in cities, not out somewhere on the outskirts, but in-town, like a YMCA is. I'd like to see city kids going off to their riding lesson after school the same way they go off to their piano lesson or their tennis lesson. I'd like to see the waiting lists for the therapeutic riding disappear because there are enough horses for everyone. I think it would be good for everyone.
Yes, even the horses.