Central Park is a place of quiet respite for New Yorkers, an iconic wonderland for tourists and home to some 220 carriage horses. When I first came to the city, I didn’t know anything about these horses but it was impossible to miss the sadness in their eyes. It turns out that there are multiple problems with these sensitive creatures working in a raucous city like New York, many of which stem from a lack of enforcement on industry regulations.
Although there is a mandated maximum of nine consecutive hours allowed for shifts, horses frequently work 12 hour days. Temperature regulations do not take wind chill nor ashphalt surfaces (which can reach 200 F in the summer) into account, so the horses are forced to work in burning heat and freezing cold. After the 3am curfew, they are relegated to a stable on the west side of midtown where conditions have been found to include no hay or bedding, stall floors covered in urine and manure, inadequate ventilation, limited access to water and stacked floors that obstruct escape in case of fire.
It isn’t only the horses who suffer. Working in these poor conditions, often with injuries or improperly fitted shoes, means that they are liable to become spooked in traffic. There have been at least 18 instances in the last two years where this has ended in both horses and people being injured, and sometimes severely. The law technically prohibits honking when behind a horse but anybody who’s walked the streets of New York knows that this means nothing — everybody honks, and traffic moves fast.
When they can no longer drag thousands of pounds through the streets every day, the horses are frequently sold for slaughter. It takes only four to five years for many to reach this point, as they are often brought in with pre-existing injuries or arthritis after working on racetracks and farms. Comparatively, police horses have a life span of up to 15 years.
As a long heralded iconic part of New York City, the major argument for preserving the carriage horses is that they are vital to the city’s tourism industry and as such, provide jobs for approximately 300 carriage operators. Fortunately, there is a solution that would ensure jobs for workers in the carriage horse industry — with potential for higher wages — while continuing to provide rides for tourists. NYClass has proposed legislation, known as Intro 86A, that would see the horses swapped for vintage replica electric cars, not unlike those featured in The Great Gatsby.
One look at these environmentally friendly vehicles and it’s easy to see that the romance of the experience would not only be preserved, but enhanced. London, Paris, Toronto, Las Vegas, Santa Fe and Palm Beach in Florida have all successfully banned horse-drawn carriages without any major damage to tourism.
The good news is that you can choose to support the abolition of horse abuse whether you vote as a Democrat or a Republican. Four candidates have spoken openly in direct support of replacing the long abused carriage horses with electric-powered replicas of classic cars: Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson and John Liu, of the Democrats, and Joseph Lhota, of the Republicans.
Several candidates have expressed neutral but ultimately unsupportive opinions regarding the horses. John Catsimatidis has offered, somewhat bizarrely, to send the horses to Central Park Zoo on their retirement, but said he would not abolish the practice. Meanwhile, Sal F. Albanese appears ultimately disinterested in the horses at all, citing his priorities as creating jobs. Mayor Bloomberg says the horses are lucky to have a job and to be alive at all. Interestingly, his daughter Georgina Bloomberg has disagreed and said she doesn’t believe the horses are kept in the best condition.
In May this year, the prominent activist group NYClass announced that they have “literally every major mayoral candidate but Christine Quinn on board to end the inhumane horse carriage industry in New York.” Democratic candidate Christine Quinn, despite claiming to be an animal lover, has actively blocked multiple animal protection bills since 2006. This includes legislature to bring carriage horses off the streets, to install fire sprinklers in pet stores and to increase desperately needed funding for New York City’s animal shelters. NYClass, a predominantly liberal group, has even gone so far as to consider supporting Republican candidate Joseph Lhota over Christine Quinn.
If you are a New York City resident, you are eligible to vote in the upcoming mayoral election. If you aren’t a resident, you can still write to the elected candidate (or current Mayor, Michael Bloomberg) to let them know that you support Intro 86A. I encourage you to use your power and speak up. As Anna Sewell wrote in Black Beauty, “My doctrine is this, that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.”