Although I like most of what Guadalajara Mayor Alfaro has done, I’m mystified as to why he has taken up the cause of eliminating the wonderful Guadalajara tradition of calandrias and replacing them with electric-battery-powered carriages.
Of course, Alfaro is falling in step with a global trend (perhaps a fad) against working horses; New York’s Central Park is going to do away with horse-drawn carriages, too.
But I believe horses would rather work than stand around—or be sent to the slaughterhouse, which is where the calandria steeds will go after their jobs are eliminated. Nobody is going to pay to feed horses that don’t have a purpose and it is common knowledge that local tacos and hamburgers often contain horsemeat.
I’ve taken visitors on calandria rides half a dozen times during my 50 years in Guadalajara (some of them in the foreign service) and seen them lined up by the Regional Museum during many visits there. To me, they did not appear mistreated. (I’ve ridden horses a good deal and took a 10-day horseback trip through Mexico’s Copper Canyon. Would Alfaro do away with horseback riding too? And what about racetracks?)
What archaeologists tell us about horses is fascinating. There is evidence they domesticated themselves and “volunteered” to live with us. Horses in the Americas died off after the last Ice Age (just as mammoths did) and archaeologists think their domestication in Eurasia (where they were first used for food) saved the species. Some say this was a win-win arrangement—that horses are humans’ most important ally from the animal kingdom. I’d rather see more horses on Guadalajara’s car-choked streets instead of less. Frankly, I doubt I would invite a visitor to ride an electric carriage—to me there is something magical about horses.
The ecological arguments on horses vs. carbon-powered vehicles are all over the place. Some say that cars didn’t clean up cities (as they were once touted to do) but instead replaced manure piles with clouds of air pollution. “There were winners and losers,” in the change from horse to car and tractor power, University of Pennsylvania historian Ann Norton Greene wrote in her book, Horses At Work.
The proposed electric carriages may seem attractive but, as you can see on a drive to Manzanilla past smoke-belching power plants that burn fuel oil and coal, electricity in Mexico harms the environment, too.
I’m skeptical about the argument that calandria horses are mistreated. Recent veterinary checkups did not show any problems. Of course, there was an upsetting incident in which a horse died during a parade. Mayor (and soon to be Governor) Alfaro, instead of going along with the crowd and to all the expense of buying polluting electric carriages, why not restrict the number of consecutive hours horses can pull passengers and provide the horses with clean water and shady trees? Why would you support the wonderful Mi Bici program and eliminate the wonderful calandria tradition?
Dan Turnquist, Guadalajara