animals in society, campaigns / activism
Comments 25

The end of horse-drawn carriages in NYC. Will Bruges follow?

The newly elected mayor of New York city Bill de Blasio announced he wants to outlaw the horse-drawn carriages, a popular tourist attraction in and around Central Park. He called the practice ‘inhumane’ and plans to put an end to it. For many years, animal rights organisations have campaigned to end this abusive practice.

Horse drawn carriages are also a popular tourist attraction in Bruges. Bruges is famous for its medieval architecture, but we sure wish this medieval practice would be religated to history! Hopefully, Bruges will follow New York’s example!

horse drawn carriages Bruges

horse drawn carriages Bruges


  1. hmunro says

    I was in Bruges for only a few days, but the horse-drawn carriages made a definite impression. I was very taken aback by the speed at which the drivers negotiated their carriages through the tourist-filled streets — I saw two near-misses that would have been disastrous both for the pedestrians and the horse. I was also very saddened to see the same horses, day after day, trotting for hours on those cobblestone streets. I’m sure the owner/handlers care about the animals, but there does seem to be a need for at least some oversight, both for the welfare of the tourists and that of the horses. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • Dear hmunro
      It’s sad that the tourist’s only see one side of the horse drawn carriages in bruges.
      I can assure you that the horses are very well taking care of , as I worked myself as a horse cab driver for many years …
      They don’t work every day that’s not allowed , and for the traffic part , there are people who cross the street without looking specialy in the main shopping street most of them with headphone ….. I think that explains a lot !!!
      So I hope you feel a bit les worried now 🙂
      kind regards
      the horse cab driver

      • hmunro says

        Hello, k. Thank you for your very thoughtful response! It is indeed very reassuring to hear about your experiences as a horse cab driver, and to add your perspective to my observations. I’m certain you’re right that Bruges is full of careless and distracted pedestrians — especially in the busy tourist areas — and ultimately each individual is responsible for being aware of their safety and surroundings. As an experienced horsewoman, I also know that horses will generally try to avoid running over people almost at all cost. But sadly, I did observe some drivers taking the corners at a very quick trot, which seemed risky for the conditions. But what do I know? I’m just a tourist, commenting based on her casual observations. Perhaps next time I come to Bruges I should spend some time with the horses and their drivers, and perhaps even write a story about it. It’s always good to hear different perspectives, and I thank you for sharing yours in such a considerate and polite way. Cheers to you from the northern U.S.!

    • Dear All,

      As spokesman of the vzw De Brugse Koetsiers (the owners of the horse carriages) I take notice of this open discussion. We operate 13 licensed horse carriages and 3 horse trams in the heart of the historical center. Together we have around 85 horses to do this work. As written down in a specific police regulation, the Brugean carriage horses, can work only one day of max 8 hours (with 5 min rests in between every half hour) and then have a minimum of 2 days off. Most of these horses are in winter months on rest. These rules have been established in close cooperation with the city government and people from the animal welfare (GAIA).

      All the horses are under permanent veterinarian supervision. They all have a microchip: so individual recognition (even of similar types or colors) is very easy and unique. They need to have a passport conform to the EU rules, where all the details needed are registered during the life of the horse (f.i annual vaccination scheme, medication controls, anti-worm and parasites medication, control by official Vets, etc. ). The microchip with the passport is also registered in the central database of the ‘Belgian Confederation of the Horse’, so the official state veterinarians, the health ministry, police, fire brigade … have permanent access to this database. They can consult to see who is the owner, the person responsible, and know the place were these horses are stabled. All carriage drivers need every year a license from the city before they can drive.
      Quiet some horses came from former eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary, Roumania, and were initially imported to be slaughtered. Finally we saved these horses from the death, and give them many years of an extra and healthfully life. Last year we even had one carriage horse that became 30 years of age, and it was already 5 years on pension.

      The Brugean way of operating these carriage horses is a unique example how tradition, man and animals can work together in a good, horsefrendly atmosphere. It ‘s better for the welfare of these horses that they work regularly, instead of being locked up in stables 24/24 – 7/7 days and only come out one or two times a week. The day that our horses do not have to work, they are out in paddocks with grass-land and the really can relax. The blacksmith and the vet is checking them weekly.

      If you want to see how they are stabled, pampered and taken care off, you are always welcome to visit us. We have no secrets and work with an open book.

      The carriages that they pull are all, newly build and designed in light metal. All carriages have disk brakes and ball-bearing axels that roll very easy.

      Some of these drivers even start with their horses in national and international compettions with success.

      More info:

      • Poney Tail says

        Hi, I’ve visited Bruges for the first time couple of weeks ago. I loved the city but I was shocked by the amount of horse carriages. 1.Horses are not made to run on asphalt in the middle of cars and bikes. 2. I’am shocked to hear you proudly writing about 30 years old horse working on the streets of Bruges. 3. I saw those trams you mentioned, they can carry up to 18 people carried by ONE single horse. Even if the horse itself is 800 kg this is insane and cruel.
        I don’t visit the New York city and now I know for sure that I’ll never visit Bruges again as long as horse carriages exist.

      • Claire Taylor says

        I have come to Bruge this weekend to see this beautiful town, but I must admit I was really sad to see the horses working all day past our hotel window, your post and explanation however has lifted a little bit of my sadness. (A cold wet day & one horse looked agitated by his harness, my first thought was, could it be sore?)) I also appreciate we don’t want them locked in stables for hours on end.
        Please give these animals lots of attention when stood around during their busy day, which enables the public to appreciate the driver horse bond and that they are cared for . thank you 🙂

  2. Emy Will says

    I have heard that Bruge is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It does not need horse drawn carriages to make it more appealing. In fact I find the practice very off putting. I hope pressure is being put on the authorities to ban horse drawn carriages! I will certainly visit then.

    Thank you for following my blog and thank you for caring. All the best:-)

    • Please do, Emy. Come and see Bruges with your own eyes. Please contact the Gidsenbond.Good professional guides for a walking tour through monumental Bruges for 2 hours.Visit my page about Bruges at Facebook. (Rafaël Plasman).

  3. Bruggeboy says

    Hmunro, you say you saw the same horses everyday? That is not possible: when a horse “was working” for a day, they all get 3 days of rest. There are also very severe medical and other rules and services for the animals as it is obliged by the city council.

    • 3 days of rest? Make it 7. I’d love to have a life like those horses. They are treated like kings!

    • hmunro says

      Thanks for your comment, Bruggeboy. In one case, I’m absolutely certain I saw the same horse on two consecutive days (I have the photos to prove it) — and I’m fairly sure I also saw the same white draft horse at least twice during my four-day stay (I will revisit my photos to confirm). But based on your comment, I’m relieved to think this is probably a rare exception. As I wrote to another commenter, next time I come to Bruges perhaps I can spend some time with the horses and their drivers, and maybe even write a travel story about it. But for now, I’m at least relieved to hear that there really is quite stringent oversight of the animals’ well-being and care. Thanks again for taking the time to share this information.

      • Bruggeboy says

        You’re welcome hmunro 🙂
        And if you’re again in Bruges, you’re always welcome in one of our tourist office 😉 Maybe I’m working that day

      • There are over 80 horses working in Bruges. Some may look alike… In summer the horses work half-a-day shifts. It is very well possible that a horse worked for example Thursday evening shift and then again Sunday evening shift. I have worked these horses for 15 years, and never have I used the same horse two consecutive days…

  4. Hi, I used to be a carriage driver in Bruges, and the horses do really get 3 days off if they have worked a day.
    If you think you’ve seen the same horse 2 days in a row, look twice, there are some horses who look the same but really they aren’t, like Frisian horses we have several off those.
    And they are stabled quit comfortable. In the summer we get them in the morning out off the field and in the evening we put them back in the field. In the winter they are in stables and during the day they ( if the weather is good) get to go outside in the paddock for a few hours.
    I do think that this life isn’t that bad, especially if you compare it to some horses from a few riding schools. where the really have to work every day!!

    • hmunro says

      My goodness, TP … I really seem to be getting an education here, don’t I? 🙂 I very much appreciate your thoughtful and informative response. Although I’m absolutely certain I saw the same horse on two consecutive days (I have the photos to prove it), it is very reassuring to hear about your experiences as a former horse cab driver and to know that the horses are so well taken care of. As I mentioned to the other commenters, perhaps next time I come to Bruges I should spend some time with the horses and their drivers — and maybe even write a travel story about it. In the meantime, it’s wonderful to see that we all agree on one fundamental point: The horses must be well cared for. (And if they really do get three days off for each day they work, I think I will become a horse and move to Bruges! Ha, ha.) Thank you very much for taking the time to comment — and please drop me a note in private if you’d like to put me in touch with some of your carriage driver colleagues. Cheers!

  5. Hartwon says

    I’m originally from Bruges and never was able to link the horse carriages with ‘good treatment’. It’s nice for some people that they can sooth their conscience by treating those horses good when they aren’t pursuit by cars, scooters and byciclists, are walking in the fumes of cars and scooters and have to do the same walk every time over those cobblestones.

    It’s still animal slavery, otherwise they wouldn’t be carrying reins and and horse blinkers.

    By the way, when it’s 25°C-30°C those horses are still obliged to pull those carriages (I’ve witnessed that). Talk about good treatment!

    • Bruggeboy says

      That’s true, they work also in hot summer days, but only a half day, and then they are off for the rest of the day. And they get a lot of water over them at Wijngaardplein.
      And in the winter time, every morning, one of the horse cab drivers goes for a tour and tests if all the streets are in a good condition.

  6. birgt says

    I live in Bruges and it really bothers me to see the horses work in hot temperatures and I don’t care if it is only for “half a day (besides
    9-16 is NOT half a day!!!). They NEVER choose to work in those conditions (traffic, noise…). They are not ours to make a profit on!

    • How many times have you witnessed a horse working non-stop from 9 to 16?
      They get five to ten minutes rest every half an hour they work. They often stand still on the Markt waiting for customers.
      How do you feel about construction workers or road workers working in summer, with temperatures of 25-30 degrees? Are their bosses abusive too? Should it be banned?
      I think it is really good that people are concerned with the horses in Bruges; it proves that times have changed. On the other hand, I notice a lot of people have opinions without being properly informed, and that is really a shame…

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  9. I live near NYC and it’s so sad. There’s just too much pollution and we’ve had accidents. I was walking down the sidewalk and a horse got spooked. The tourists in the carriage were thrown out and the horse was on the sidewalk about to crush me when I pulled back quickly enough.
    Also, the temperatures are really bad in NYC from cold to hot. Let alone the smell of the horse’s defecating on the streets. Ugh. It’s disgusting. There’s no place for horses in NYC!

    Love your blog also!

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  11. One year later and one of Bruges biggest tourist “attraction” is still the horse-drawn carriages tours. The discussion point always seems to be if the animals are being well treated or not. Mr spokesman of the vzw De Brugse Koetsiers talks about the horses in terms that he could perfectly be talking about an average person. 8 hours work per day, 2 days off, individual recognition with a chip, a passport conform to the EU rules… There’s even a ‘Belgian Confederation of the Horse’, where the microchip with the passport are registered and accessible to official state veterinarians, te health ministry, police, fire brigade, who can see who is the owner, the person responsible, and know the place were these horses are stabled.” Doesn’t this all sound familiar? The only thing this tells me is that these animals are being used, controlled, “protected”, and owned just like an average worker is. It sounds fair, no? But it’s just because they have to work under all those regulations we use that it sounds fair. But is it fair? No. It’s just putting flowers on the ugly truth. And this truth is slavery, raw and pure SLAVERY.
    Humanity is fucked, our system is fucked, but we put ourselves in this situation, we created all this fictional system in which we are drowning now. Not them. We don’t have to drag other living beings into our stupidity.
    But then people would say that if they don’t work, there’s no money to give them food, or healthcare, or cozy stables. How cynic is that, that the life of an animal, a living being who doesn’t have a clue what money is, depends on how much he works, so his owner can go and buy the necessary stuff to mantain him? Luckily they don’t know what’s happening, they just know a routine, and they know that routine brings them food, so they just do it.
    It sounds completely normal for everyone that we talk about the horses and their owners, about horses being imported from other countries and then bought and put to work, or slaughtered in other unfortunate cases, about how it is better that they have the chance to work instead of being locked up in stables 24/7. And the sad thing is that, between the life options a horse has among humans, working 8 hours a day pulling from a carriage full of people who pay 44 fucking Euro for a romantic half fucking hour of not walking, in small cobblestones streets, surrounded by cars, making the same tour again and again, and being obligated to use horse blinkers and reins, sounds like the fairest option.Those people might even be right, there’s no much better life options for the horses out there, it’s that, or being locked 24/7, or being sold to be slaughtered, or being used as a race horse, or as a volting horse, or in a circus; or they might even be lucky and end up in a horseasylum, where loving people will take care of them without expecting anything in change from them, and there’s where they should be. There’s the only place where we could talk about fair horse environment, a place where they don’t need to work in order to survive, a place where they are not treated like slaves (humans) but like animals. They don’t need all those many rules, labels and controlls you put on a working horse, even if it sounds like a beautiful, horsefriendly atmosphere, where tradition, men, and animals can work together for the welfare of the tourists in Bruges, flowers and rainbows, everybody happy, IT’S STILL SLAVERY.
    Nor horses nor any animal needs any of this, nice intention though, but they are not like us, they ask so, so, so much less of life. All they want is to be in a place big enough to run.

    Animals don’t belong to the humans, just like black don’t belong to white and women don’t belong to men.

    • Spark says

      Animal Rights campaigners. So, I’ll tell you what you would all do.

      First, all use of horses would be banned – horses would be free to go wherever they wished. Literally tens of thousands of animals without restriction, seeing as how humans would not be allowed to use them as that would be inhumane.
      Second, due to the non-interference from humans, horses would go without a proper diet apart from the statutory diet of grass and water from the fields. A far better solution for them than the vegetables or grain and nutritional supplements they would get from humans who care about their well being.
      Third, again due to the non-participation from humans, breeding would slow and eventually stop. As there would be no interaction from humans permitted, any interest in them would drop rapidly and their population would dwindle.
      Fourth, riding schools, farms, stables and other equine establishments would close as getting on the back of the animal would be classed as inhumane. Thousands of people who work in a dedicated industry would have to find alternative employment if they could, but you would’nt care as the horses would be free.
      Fifth, all medical care of horses would cease. Any horse that injured itself in a field would not be cared for, as of course under your rules, no-one would own them!!! These ‘horse asylums’ you speak of do not sound like a place one would want to be in, and if you think people will run these at significant cost to themselves without any return, think again.

      So, there you have it. Many thousands of animals totally uncared for, but as you say ‘all they want is to be in a place big enough to run’. Impressive that you can see into a horse’s mind.

      You need to think carefully about your argument before you spout your load of uneducated vitriol, tarring everyone in the equine industry with the same brush. Your generalisations show a distinct lack of evidence or credibility, hence the tone of my reply.

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