Are horse-drawn carriages on their last legs in New York City?

© Janice Hough

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.

Are you in favor of eliminating horse-drawn carriages in New York City?

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  • Katrina

    There’s just no objective evidence the carriage horses are abused, miserable or in general bothered by the sights, sounds or weather of NYC. In fact, many equine professionals support horses in NYC. Groups like NYCLASS and PETA put out misinformation and anthropomorphic projections. So glad the the author went and observed for herself the relaxed way with which the horses do their jobs of easily pulling carriages around one of the prettiest parks in the world. Here’s what a few people and horses would miss if the horses were banned: PHOTOS/NinaGalicheva

  • joan67

    The carriage drivers have no regard for their horses — they just squeeze every last dollar out of them and then dump them. Despicable.

  • joan67

    Tourists will not miss this. Take a pedicab or a walking tour.

  • suzannecarlson

    Sooooo, as long as the little darlings get a smile, horses should toil for their entire lives? Great life lesson. Well done.

  • Priscilla Feral

    Signed to end the outdated carriage horse trade. That the travel agent expert is waiting for horses to speak in an English language to better understand their plight in a city with lots of congested, dangerous traffic is ridiculous. It’s 90 degrees today and horses are lugging tourists around hot city streets. Should Mr. Ed pen a note here that he’d prefer to be in a pasture pursuing his own interests, because this article is clownish.

  • William_Leeper

    Not abusive at all. I personally work with horses, and they love working. I have worked many head of cattle from a horse, and I know ranchers who have tried using ATVs, and it does not work. Our ranch supplied horses to pull city carriages (not in NY) and we had only 1 incident of an animal being injured, it involved a miniature horse of ours who was in front of the carriage headquarters, and a driver who intentionally swerved into the hitching post to kill her.

    So, justify your arguments, and perhaps you can sway my view.

  • joan67

    It’s one thing to have a horse working outside of busy city streets in a safer environment. But NYC has 8 million residents in one tiny area, crazy taxis, double decker buses, trucks, street music, drunk people, bright lights, construction zones everywhere — it’s everything that can possibly spook a horse.
    NYC can do better than this.

  • William_Leeper

    Fair enough answer. I have never personally been to New York, and the city that our horses were in was only 80,000 and they operated only in the historic residential district.

    I agree, quite a difference.

  • LFH0

    The cited article does quote some activists making accusations, but there is no support for the claim that animal owners “just squeeze every last dollar out of them and then dump them.” Nonetheless, if the meaning of that claim is that animal owners use their animals for work, and then retire the animals when they’re old, then that’s a description of society for hundreds of years. There’s nothing wrong with using animals for work; if were prohibited for animals to work, then Rosco the bed bug dog and all the other animals who do such valuable tasks would leave us humans much worse off.

  • Katrina

    Just as the horses in your city of 80,000 became accustomed to the at first unnatural and strange sounds of the historic district, so do the NYC horses. I have spent hours with the NYC horses, and people, taxis, busses, trucks, music, lights and construction don’t cause them to so much as flick an ear – they’ve seen it all. Ever see BLM mustangs in long term holding that will literally walk up to the trucks and snatch feed or hay off them? Same process of acclimation. Once they know it isn’t a threat, the only thing they care about is whether it serves food or not.

  • Katrina

    Yes, it’s a great life lesson; if you take good care of an animal, you can have a pleasant relationship with him or her, yes, sometimes including a working partnership, for many years. We get it you think that’s wrong, toil and all that.

  • Katrina

    This is a photo of a horse that was determined to have died of natural causes not work related. Are they supposed to be immortal?