Blinders

4.5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: March 30, 2009
An astonishing tradition of cruelty

The romantic notion of enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park is forever spooked by Donny Moss’ disturbing exposé of systemic inertia that leaves New York City’s herd of draught horses at daily risk of injury, disease and deadly accidents. The blinders worn by the four-legged “beasts of burden” purposely give them a narrow view of the path ahead, yet many of those around them—owners/operators, drivers, grooms, the paying public and the preying politicians—employ a wilfully selective vision that has more inertia than an idle carriage when it comes to putting these animals out of their lives of misery.

Moss has carefully structured the chapters in a manner that initially invites the audience into the unbridled joy of moving about the famous park in a mode of transportation that goes back centuries, then gradually peels back the layers of hurt (the graphics of the animal/auto collisions are not for the squeamish), anxiety (the normal trait of nervousness is hugely exacerbated by the sudden sounds, odours and flashing lights that pummel the pathetic creatures every block of their way) and dismal living conditions (incredibly, many of the stables are high rise “apartments” where a twice-daily trek up and down a ramp is the only way of gaining access to the squalid quarters—surrounded by hay, one match would burn the tenants to death before any alarm would be responded to).

While the owners declined to comment for the camera, one of the drivers, Petero, engagingly explains the business arrangement between him and his faithful steed, but cautions “Never trust your horse”—that’s his key to success while navigating the busy streets. Incredibly, there is no driver’s test to obtain a city licence (the written and oral exam is based on a prescribed manual whose traffic rules, fares, maximum load rules and regulations are often ignored) and just one ASPCA officer to ride herd over the ~175 horses and drivers.

As the film progresses, anger morphs into outrage when veterinarians provide gruesome detail of the largely invisible suffering (see blinders, above). In true civic style, concerned citizens come together to form the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. British tourists are surprised that the horses don’t live in the park and wonder why an area couldn’t be set aside for them. The camera displays the inevitable streams of pee and uncollected manure that give such a distinctive flavour to the Big Apple’s fabled oasis. Why are dog owners compelled to collect their loved ones’ waste but not their larger cousins?

Many other cities have managed to survive after banning this apparent tourist attraction. Will NYC follow suit? “We need a [human] death [first]” offers a disillusioned protester as the tragic ends of the once mighty beasts continue to mount either when “on duty” or with a nail-gun finding its mark after being sold off as meat for export to far-away diners who are not concerned with the provenance of their main course.

Still, this terrible trade would shut down of its own accord if only those incurable romantics could see the awful truth instead of viewing this equestrian nightmare through rose-coloured glasses. JWR

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Director/Writer - Donny Moss
Sound - John Wiggins
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