It’s not just elephants and tigers in the circus who are broken by “trainers” in order to scare them into entertaining us. The horses who pull carriages in urban areas are broken too.In his autobiography A Tough Son of Gun: Thoughts on Training Horses and Living Well, the man who primes NYC carriage horses for work on the city streets describes in great detail how he breaks them so that they will obey their “masters.”
Ironically, the trainer/author, Norman Martin, was used as a horse expert by the NY Daily News as part of its campaign to convince the public that operating horse-drawn carriages in midtown Manhattan is humane. In fact, while Mr. Martin wrote that he uses “a disciplining device” that “stings a little more than a whip” to train his horses, the Daily News reported that he uses positive reinforcement: “He gradually helps them overcome those fears by gently caressing their heads or slowly getting them used to more populated towns.”
Following are excerpts from the book:
“They [NYC carriage horse operators] come out to the farm and ask if I can give their horse an attitude adjustment . . .What these horses need is discipline – an understanding that they have a master, and they are to do his or her will.” (page 120)
“I couldn’t break through that stubbornness or cure Charlie’s bad habit until I used a stronger method and that reprogrammed his mind from doing things his way to doing things the way his masters wanted him to do. That reminds me of some people, sometimes we have bad habits we need to repent from.” (page 127)
“I have a disciplining device that is a little stronger and stings a little more than a whip for the thick-hided horses. But I only use it if I have to break strong ingrained attitudes and habits.“ (page 121)
“I put what’s called a ‘power line’ on him. I could pull hard and force his head against his neck, so he would choke himself until he passed out and fell down on the road.” (page 40)
“That was the first horse that I had to cure of five bad habits, and I was the seventh guy that had him and the only one who broke him.” (page 42)
“That horse stood straight up on his hind legs and come up over backwards. He hit his head on a sharp rock right between his ears and killed himself instantly. And that was the end of the horse that no one could break. His stubbornness broke him, but this time it was his own brain that broke and he did it all himself on his own terms. Sorry.” (page 43)
Mr. Martin recounted moments when he abused his horses even when he wasn’t “training” them. He describes one incident in which he intentionally spooked a skittish horse by dangling a plastic strip in front of him: “It was a full rolling gallop. I remember laughing like a madman as he surged down the road.” (page 21)
When the Daily News reported that Mr. Martin “gently caresses” the horses as a training method, did the editors know that this self-described “renowned trainer of carriage horses” published a book about using weapons and fear as his preferred method?
NYC Mayor de Blasio ran for office on a promise to ban horse-drawn carriages from Manhattan as soon as he was elected, but he lost the support of the public after the carriage operators, Teamsters and media launched a coordinated campaign to protect the industry. Now, the Mayor is negotiating a highly controversial compromise, which would reduce the number of horses and house them in Central Park.
To see why activists have been fighting for years to take horse-drawn carriages out of NYC and other congested urban areas, please watch the award-winning documentary film BLINDERS: