This Town Is Trying Desperately to Put Nappies on Horses

The city of Selma passed a law in 2013 requiring horse owners to diaper their horses in order to cut down on the amount of poop in the streets, but almost no one is following it.

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Mar 26 2016, 4:00am

This is the kind of thing we're talking about when we say "horse diaper." Photo via Flickr user Natalie Maynor

Being a politician is hard work. Obviously the president has to make life or death decisions every day, but even run-of-the-mill local legislators are deluged with problems and have to grapple with the complex political and policy ramifications of potential solutions. Say I'm a city councilman in Selma, Alabama, and I look out my window: There's a horse walking down the street, shitting as it goes. My phone rings: One of my many loyal constituents is complaining about horse poop all over the place.

So I study the problem. How do you stop horses from shitting all over the place? I convene a panel. Or maybe I just google "solutions for horse poop HELP." Either way, I arrive at a solution: horse diapers. I write a bill that says, "If you have a horse, you must put a diaper on it while you are taking it around town." I do the hard work of handshaking and politicking, I sweet-talk the powerful horse owners, I receive a sizable donation from the horse diaper lobby. "We like what you're doing," the horse diaper lobbyist says to me on the golf course. The bill passes. A gavel is banged. A law is made. It's like Schoolhouse Rock.

Some version of this happened in Selma in 2013, and this is why it's hard to be a politician: No one will put a diaper on a horse. Councilman Michael Johnson told the Selma Times-Journal that since then, he's only seen one horse whose owner put a diaper on it. "Most of the time they take a chance and hope they don't get caught."

Horse poop, incidentally, used to be a serious problem in the pre-car era, when cities like London and New York had massive horse populations transporting people and goods, all of them filling the streets with literal tons of shit and piss every day. "Urine, of course... soaked the streets," author Lee Jackson told NPR last year in a segment on Victorian London. According to Lee, one solution back then was to hire young boys to run around picking up the horse shit in an effort to stem the tide. In New York, the Times complained about a massive pile of manure on East 92nd Street in 1880. Writing in Appleton's Magazine in 1908, journalist Harold Bolce argued that "most of the modern city's sanitary and economic problems were caused by the horse," and held that each year "20,000 New Yorkers died from 'maladies that fly in the dust, created mainly by horse manure.'"

That was a serious problem that only really got solved when cars replaced horses and created their own set of environmental issues. Selma's horse poop crisis, by contrast, is a minor nuisance, but the solution is simple: Diaper your horses. Please, diaper your horses, so Michael Johnson can stop talking about it.

The councilman doesn't want to be the horse diaper guy. "I'm tired of it because there's other things I could be doing than dealing with horses," he told the Times-Journal, and who can blame him? He most certainly could be dealing with other important things but then another horse walks by, defiantly un-diapered, and he's gotta make another call and another note to bring this up at the next council meeting. The police chief says that they're going to crack down on these horses, really enforce the law, even if cops probably don't want to stop a rider and say, "Excuse me, sir, I couldn't help but notice that your horse is not wearing a diaper."

But look, living in modern society is complicated. There is a web of responsibilities and consequences that we are all a part of. We are not just Ayn Randian self-interested individuals moving of our own volition and building trains or whatever. If you have a horse, it will shit, and someone has to clean it up, or someone else will step in it. The roads are public property, and allowing your horse to shit in them is a sort of vandalism, a marked disregard for the lives of others. If there ever was a symbol for the coarsening of American life, of the breakdown of our communities, it's a man who refuses, contrary to both the law and common courtesy, to diaper his horse. I hope Selma's equine enthusiasts get onboard with the law, but more than that, I wish we could go back to a kindler, gentler, more compassionate America, where no one needs to tell you to put a diaper on your horse; you just do it because it's the right thing to do.

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