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Horsing Around Stanley Park

by the Phantom

working together

The first time I saw these horse carts in Stanley Park (Vancouver, BC), it was an extremely hot afternoon in August. Everybody was sweating, including the horses. I felt sorry for the poor things straining away pulling cartsful of tourists around the park. Some year later, I was once again a tourist in Stanley Park. It was cooler this time and my friends wanted to go for a ride.

As we clopped along the sometimes shaded road, the driver first pointed out the sights we were passing, and then she began talking about the horses that do the heavy pulling of the wooden trolley, loaded with park visitors. The Canadian park service owns a number of thee beasts of burden -- British Shire and American Clydesdales (see, the Americans and Brits can work nicely together) -- and according to our guide, they are quite well treated.

She reminded us that these horses are bed to work and their work is hauling heavy loads. They live approximately 35 years and their working lives are between 5 and 20 years. They weight about two thousand pounds apiece and can haul ten times their weight. The guide pointed out that the trolleys, even when fully loaded with heavy tourists, don't weight nearly that much, and the roadway around the park is mostly flat paved road.

The horses work three days in a row and then are off one day. They get antsy if they have to loaf more than one day. (Sort of like working out, if you don't do it continually, you'll get out of shape.) Each team does 5 to 6 trips around the park per day and each trip lasts about an hour. Even though the carts are much lighter than their hauling capability, they are given a 15-30 minute "coffee break" between trips (water, a bag of oats, whatever they'd like). After work they are bathed, fed, watered and massaged. Their stable is more like a spa for horses. They get three months off to graze every year and after 20 years of work they get full-paid retirement that includes a Canadian pasture (even the Yanks), companionship, and lots of food.

Our team had one horse that liked to walk a pace behind the other one. The guide scolded it and then pointed out that, just like people, some are slackers, and will walk one pace behind the other, so that the other pulls the whole load. She called it passive-aggressive horse psychology. Some work harder and love the job more than others.
A very familiar scene in Stanley Park.

She told us that horses are competitive by nature. The Type A park horses relish doing all the work and even get grouchy if they miss a day on the job, while others are content to get by doing as little as possible. Sound familiar?

After I had been reassured that the horses were not being mistreated, I enjoyed our jaunt around the park even more. Stanley Park is typically Canadian, filled with beautiful gardens, intriguing paths through wooded glens and along the waterways. And of course, there are lots of stories about the old days when the West was wild and wooly. Horsing around Stanley Park is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour or two. Trust me.

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