Although I’ve been to New York many times and always enjoyed watching the horse-drawn carriages in Central Park, this spring I took my first actual ride.
We chose a cheerful driver with a pretty horse for the basic 20-minute ride. It was a fun trip. The driver, John, was quite chatty about the park and residents and he was happy to talk about his horses and the industry, which has been a part of New York City for over a century.
But right now it is an industry under siege, as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to ban horse-drawn carriages and replace them with electric open-air carriages.
This is one of those situations which could be a no-brainer, depending on who you listen to.
On one side, those in favor of the ban — led by an animal rights group called NYCLASS — claim that the horses can’t handle the heat, traffic and noise. Plus, drivers abuse the animals by overworking them.
Of course, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has joined in the fight. They want the horses to be able to live in the country and run free. PETA also claims the animals are miserable in the city.
On the other hand, the carriage drivers themselves say the animals are well taken care of, that they get at least five weeks of vacation in the country and that they are happy.
There apparently is some discussion about the land where the stables are housed. A developer, who was a donor to the mayor’s campaign, wants to build on them. So, ulterior motives may be in play.
Our driver admitted the land where the horses are housed is very valuable. A possible solution he suggested was putting the horses in unused Central Park stables, instead of the highly-sought-after land in Manhattan where the stables are currently located.
He said his horses are rotated and aren’t overworked. Our horse, “Frankie,” looked shiny, well-fed and in good condition.
The driver also said that at the moment things are a bit in limbo, but that the drivers all know the mayor is just looking for something bad to happen so he can push the ban through.
And yes, according to the NY Times, “Since 2011, there have been seven reported incidents involving horses: two collapsing and one dying, two getting spooked, and two involved in accidents with a taxi and an SUV.
However, there have also been thousands of other incidents involving all kinds of animals in New York, and the mayor isn’t talking about banning pets. So, if animal safety is the issue, then what about horse racing at Aqueduct and Belmont Park, where horses are injured on a regular basis?
Another issue is what happens to the horses if they are “retired.” Horses are expensive. While some have vowed to find them all nice homes, there’s no guarantee some of the animals won’t end up in slaughterhouses.
Friends who have horses tell me that, in general, horses like to work, as long as they are well taken care of and the work is fair, i.e. not beyond their capabilities or too arduous. So perhaps one solution is carefully enforcing regulations.
But, of course, one of the problems is that no one can ask the horses what they think.
Although this debate seems to be temporarily stalemated, if a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park is on your bucket list, you may want to make your plans soon.