Sunday, March 13, 2011

Be safe, Paddy

New York City welcomes best-selling Irish-American author Mary Higgins Clark as the grand marshal for the St. Patrick's Day parade on Thursday. In a break with the event's tradition of having the grand marshal walk the parade route, Ms. Clark will ride in a horse-drawn carriage to be pulled by a horse named Paddy. A very bad idea, indeed, although neither Ms. Clark nor the city seems to have given it much thought.

This decision immediately brought to mind the well-known dangers of putting horses into parades, especially large and noisy ones that are lined with noisy revelers and filled with pipes and drums.

A July Fourth parade last year in Bellevue, Iowa took a deadly turn when two horses spooked and bolted, killing a 61-year-old woman (the carriage driver's wife) and injuring 24 others, mostly small children who lined the parade route. One of the horses was killed. "It looked like a war zone," one witness said of the injuries in Iowa. "Backboards everywhere, kids strapped to them."

Cities and towns that put horse-drawn carriages into parades or traffic are putting the public safety at risk, since surveys have shown consistently that humans are almost always injured in carriage horse-spooking accidents. In 2010, the list of grisly carriage accidents in the United States was a long one. New York City has the highest horse-drawn carriage accident rate in the nation. Although human fatalities haven't happened yet, the 2006 accident that claimed the life of carriage horse Spotty critically injured the carriage driver (and occupants of a station wagon also were injured). Smoothie, the horse who died in 2007, had bolted in terror after being spooked by the sound of a drum in Central Park.

Tens of thousands of people have signed paper and online petitions calling for a ban in New York City of this industry. It is inhumane as well as dangerous. Horses spook easily, and it should come as no surprise when it happens in such a noisy place as a huge parade. No one in Iowa expected such a tragic turn. It just happened.

We hope that this year's parade is safe and joyous. If it is uneventful in terms of a spooking accident, be assured that it is only a matter of time until the next serious accident. Perhaps it is just as well that this year's parade route is shortened. The threat of injury, death, and legal liability make the city look reckless, mean-spirited, and foolish.

Learn more about why a ban is needed. Visit the websites of The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Horses Without Carriages International.

Photo credits:
2010 NYC St. Patrick's parade photo by Richard Perry/The New York Times
2010 Bellevue, Iowa parade photo by The Associated Press/via The Telegraph Herald, Karina Schroeder