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Horse Sanctuary Offers Retirement Home for NYC Carriage Steeds

By Mary Johnson | March 30, 2012 4:29pm
Horses at Blue Star Equiculture, the Massachusetts horse sanctuary that has been named the "official" retirement home for New York City's carriage horses.
Horses at Blue Star Equiculture, the Massachusetts horse sanctuary that has been named the "official" retirement home for New York City's carriage horses.
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Facebook/Blue Star Equiculture

MANHATTAN — After a lifetime spent working in New York City, a bucolic retirement spent puttering around a Massachusetts farm doesn’t sound half bad — especially if you’re a horse.

As the newly-declared "official" retirement home for New York City carriage horses, the nonprofit  Blue Star Equiculture, an organic farm and draft horse sanctuary in Palmer, Mass., is offering a place for carriage horses who can no longer work. The arrangement will be done in partnership with the Horse and Carriage Association of New York.

"We understand that just because a horse might retire from the carriage business, about the worst thing you could do to that horse is make him stand and do nothing for the rest of his life," said Christina Hansen, one of Blue Star's founders.

"The same thing happens to people," she added. "They tell you when you retire not just to drop everything."

The company was founded three years ago by two retired carriage drivers from Philadelphia who wanted to ensure that draft horses, including racing horses, carriage horses and farm horses, would have an appropriate home when they reached the end of their working lives.

The farm is home to about 30 horses at any given time, Hansen said, but only a few are former carriage horses. Until now, all of the carriage horses have hailed from from other states.

But this weekend, Blue Star will accept its first retired New York City carriage horse, as part of a series of events, collectively called ClipClopNYC, that will include a public stable tour, a gala benefit at the Ritz Carlton and a media event on Sunday near the hack line in Central Park. The blitz is designed to help spread its message that carriage horses don’t lead grueling lives.

Hansen said it can be difficult for carriage drivers to find a home for their horses once they are no longer fit for daily work.

It takes a significant amount of land and money to maintain a horse, she said. And although there are stories of retired horses finding good homes, there are also those who have ended up at auction, perhaps headed to slaughter, because the new owners could not pay to support them.

"It's a very stressful thing for these [carriage drivers], because the fear is the horse is going to end up in a bad place," Hansen said. "We want to be there if they ever need us."

Some of the horses at Blue Star go on to adoptive homes, she said. But those that stay on the farm are given a variety of tasks based on their individual capabilities, from pulling wagons for hayrides to doing some farm work.

Animal rights activists called the move too little, too late.

"It’s absolutely disgraceful and shameful that only in 2012 do they have an official retirement home," said Edita Birnkrant, an advocate from Friends of Animals, one of several organizations planning to protest the Sunday media event.

Advocates also said that having an official retirement home does not mean that every carriage horse will eventually end up at Blue Star. The horses' owners have the final say in where their animals go when they are no longer fit for duty — something that has become a point of contention for activists.

"There’s no mandate for it. It's completely up to each owner of the horse," said Birnkrant, whose group and others have been pushing for passage of a bill that would ban carriage horses altogether.

"We feel that what they are presenting is very disingenuous," she added. "There’s no guarantee we’ll ever have more than one horse [sent there]."

The media event/protest will be held on Sunday from noon to 3 p.m., on the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, near the hack line.