Why Some Disney Fans Think The Parks Should Stop Using Horses

Horses, real or fake, are not an uncommon sight in Disney's theme parks, but some believe the Mouse House isn't the right environment for them as live animals. As of this writing, a Care2 petition entitled, "Disneyland, Stop Using Horse-Drawn Streetcars Now!" has gathered over 61,000 supporters. The ongoing petition notes how the horses are trained to pull trolleys down Main Street, USA, which also occurs at the Magic Kingdom. In the past, similar petitions on Change.org, targeting the removal of horses from Disneyland Paris, have gained less traction. However, they expressed the same desire for Disney to get off the merry-go-round where it's exploiting horses for human entertainment.

One specific concern of the Care2 petition is that horses are trained for the sights and sounds of Disneyland by being "bombarded with stimuli in order to teach them not to react." According to the Disney Parks Blog, the animals train for six months to a year before entering the rotation on Main Street. They live at Circle D Ranch, a 5.5-acre property in Norco, California, less than 30 miles from Disneyland in Anaheim.

In Disneyland Resort's video tour of the Circle D Corral, a stage manager said it used "desensitizing equipment" to train the horses. The Orange County Register reported that the horses were subjected to "stimulus overload" from things like balloons, streamers, and strollers, all of which they might encounter in Disneyland. Once they were acclimated to such sensory input, they could even withstand fireworks going off in the park.

The Happiest Horses on Earth?

Despite the intensive training Disney's horses undergo, the last few years haven't passed without incident for them at the company's theme parks. One notable incident made headlines (via People) in 2020 when a child's balloon got tangled around a parade horse's leg at the Magic Kingdom. The animal got rattled and bucked so hard that its rider — a cast member dressed as Princess Merida from the animated movie, "Brave" — had to dismount.

Outside the Magic Kingdom, Disney World maintains its horse stable at the Tri-Circle-D Ranch in the Fort Wilderness campsites. There, and at Disney's Port Orleans Resort, the horses give carriage rides in a setting that's less noisy and crowded. Like the horses at the Circle D Ranch in California, Disney labels them "The Happiest Horses on Earth" (a play on Disneyland's nickname, "The Happiest Place on Earth").

Some Redditors who have visited Fort Wilderness argue that the horses there have good living conditions and may actually be pampered. Their trolley work is usually limited to short morning stints when parades aren't running. The trolleys are also just one of several Main Street vehicles, which include other (horse-free) throwbacks to the transportation forms of yesteryear, like jitneys, omnibuses, and fire engines. For its part, Disney may partly cling to the horse tradition in its parks because Walt Disney himself was an avowed horse lover. He reportedly rode one around as he scouted Disneyland's future location, dreaming up King Arthur Carrousel and other opening-day attractions.

Manure on Main Street

When I returned to my home state of Florida in 2017, my family and I naturally visited Disney World, since they live nearby and are Annual Passholders. One of the first sights I saw in the Magic Kingdom was a trail of horse manure on Main Street. As the crowd of incoming tourists parted around that manure, it felt like we were suddenly walking down The Crappiest Street on Earth.

In 2024, an Instagram video captured a horse heeding nature's call right in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. That's not necessarily the most magical impression for Disney to make on guests. The parks do have custodians who clean up after the horses, and per Reddit, they're usually fast about doing it. Yet some commenters have observed that manure can get lodged in the trolley tracks, forming an unsanitary picture when they're washed out and left wet.

Disney otherwise goes to great lengths to conceal the removal of unsightly things like trash from guests. It's routed through secret tunnels under the Magic Kingdom, which helps preserve the overall fantasy illusion. For visitors who are animal lovers, seeing horses used as beasts of burden in Disney's parks could have the opposite effect. The real question for fans and potential petition supporters to ponder is whether horses are really an essential component of the Disney experience. Would it be better to quietly remove them from the parks and let them inhabit places like Fort Wilderness in peace?