New York City’s carriage horse industry makes about $15 million a year. 216 horses driven by 282 drivers in 68 carriages provide 20-minute rides in Central Park for $50. Drivers can earn from $40,000 to $100,000 a year. The City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat, has offered support for the carriage industry, while calling for more oversight in the treatment of the horses whose stables are in Quinn’s district, on 37th and 38th Streets, prime real estate in Hudson Yards, a commercial and residential development. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is an even greater supporter, trumpeting that the carriage horses have “traditionally been a part of New York City,” that they’ve been used since “time immemorial..to pull things” and that they are “well treated.”
But the lot of the horses themselves is not exactly rosy. They work nine-hour shifts no matter what the weather, pulling people through Manhattan traffic and with no place to pasture. As Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of an advocacy group, Friends of Animals, says,
“Horses frighten very easily. The noises of New York City, the chaos — it is all just an inherently dangerous environment, and they don’t belong here.”
Animal rights advocates have campaigned for years to ban horse-drawn carriages in the city. Celebrities including designer Calvin Klein and actress Pamela Anderson have endorsed a ban, as have Manhattan borough president Scott M. Stringer and former city comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., both likely Democratic candidates for mayor in two years. Just this year, there have been seven incidents involving carriage horses, one involving a taxi.
A Plan to Replace Hansom Cabs With Antique Car Replicas
The present of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Ed Sayres, has teamed with a development executive from Edison Properties, Stephen Nislick, to propose that electric-powered replicas of antique cars be used to replace the horses and carriages. The two have created NY-Class, a nonprofit which has gathered more than 55,000 signatures to support city legislation to carry out their plan.
But questions have been raised about how whether Nislick’s real intent is to gain control of the land where the stables stand. His company owns Manhattan Mini Storage and carriage owners have attended NY-Class meetings without revealing their identity and recorded him discussing how to gain city politicians’ support by campaign contributions. Dr. Pamela Corey, the chief equine veterinarian for the ASPCA, also says that her supervisors pushed her to distort her findings about the death of a carriage horse, Charlie, in October. Dr. Corey was at first quoted as saying that Charlie “was not a healthy horse and was likely suffering from pain” but then retracted her statement. After the ASPCA suspended her, Dr. Corey appealed to the state attorney general’s office, saying that “on several occasions she had been pressured to slant her professional opinion to help achieve a ban.”
What Will Happen to the Horses?
Politicking aside, a real concern that needs to be addressed is what will happen to the horses, if a ban on the carriage industry is passed:
If the stables were sold and then closed, the carriage horses could end up homeless, and their owners could go out of business. Relocating uptown, and closer to Central Park, may not be an option with real estate scarce.
NY-Class and animal welfare groups say that they will find “safe pastures” for the horses, but veterinarians describe horse sanctuaries that are filled. Veterinarian Nena Winand says simply that “If we banned the carriage horse industry tomorrow, they would go straight to slaughter.”
New York doesn’t need horse-drawn carriages — but, assuming that one day these are banned, the horses will need somewhere to go.
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Photo of horse in Times Square by flickr4jazz
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