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Push to Ban New York Carriage Horses Gains Steam

December 08, 2011 | Animal Rights / Horse Carriages / Horses

The New York Times

Animal rights advocates are gaining support for legislation to ban horse-drawn carriages.

By EMILY B. HAGER

"Horses frighten very easily," said Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of one of the advocacy groups, Friends of Animals. "The noises of New York City, the chaos - it is all just an inherently dangerous environment, and they don't belong here."

A ride through Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage is one of New York City's most storied attractions, the rhythmic clip-clop offering a respite from the hustle of everyday life.

But now this old-fashioned industry is facing unprecedented turmoil.

After campaigning for decades, animal rights advocates are gaining support for legislation that would ban the hansom cabs, including endorsements from mayoral candidates and celebrities.

The carriage owners say they are being harassed, but they also acknowledge carrying out a campaign to infiltrate the activist groups and secretly record their strategy sessions.

Both the animal rights advocates and the carriage owners say they have been subjected to threats of violence by the other side.

The struggle is so tense that when an accident last summer left a carriage driver in a coma, the hospital where he was recovering was not immediately disclosed, out of concern that activists would stage protests there.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has become ensnared in the debate over the carriages. The group's chief equine veterinarian, Dr. Pamela Corey, said her supervisors pushed her to slant her conclusions about the death of a carriage horse, to generate sympathy for a ban.

Besides the animal rights campaigners, the industry is facing a classic New York peril: rising real estate values. Developers covet the stables on the Far West Side where the horses have long been kept.

New York City's carriage horses have long been a cause célèbre for animal rights advocates. Now, though, even the trade's staunchest defenders say its survival is threatened as never before.

"People in our business probably think that we probably won't survive forever and are asking, 'How long will we last,' " said Conor McHugh, a carriage driver and the manager of Clinton Park Stables, one of four stables in the city that house the horses.

"But we will keep fighting," Mr. McHugh added.

The city's licensed carriage horse industry - 68 carriages, 216 horses and 282 drivers - brings in roughly $15 million annually, officials estimate.

Drivers charge $50 for a 20-minute ride through Central Park, and $20 for each additional 10 minutes. On a good day, they can make 15 trips, grossing at least $750 plus tips.

Drivers' earnings are said to range from $40,000 to $100,000 annually, depending primarily on whether they own their horses, what shifts they work (day shifts are better) and how bad the weather and the economy are.

So far this year, seven incidents involving carriage horses have been reported, including a collision with a taxi. With each accident, animal rights campaigners raise alarms. They say carriage horses work under cruel conditions: nine-hour shifts, wading through Manhattan traffic, in almost any weather, with no space to frolic in a pasture.

The activists have rounded up endorsements from celebrities like the designer Calvin Klein and the actresses Pamela Anderson and Lea Michele, while lawmakers allied with them have introduced bills at the state and city levels to abolish the industry.

Last year, the City Council approved a measure to improve working and living conditions for the horses but would not pass a ban.

Many weekends, one group or another gathers across from the Plaza Hotel, where carriages congregate at an entrance to Central Park, to hold a protest.

"Horses frighten very easily," said Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of one of the advocacy groups, Friends of Animals. "The noises of New York City, the chaos - it is all just an inherently dangerous environment, and they don't belong here."

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been an ardent supporter of the carriages. After a horse fell Sunday in Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Bloomberg dismissed criticism of the industry.

"Carriage horses have traditionally been a part of New York City," he said. "The tourists love them, and we've used from time immemorial animals to pull things. They are well treated, and we'll continue to make sure that they are well treated."

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is one of the groups leading the effort to ban the carriages. It is also one of the three entities - along with the city's health department and the Department of Consumer Affairs - that regulate the industry.

"I don't see it as a conflict," the society's president, Ed Sayres, said last month on the steps of City Hall after a rally against the carriages. "If we don't bring forward the risk factor that we are observing, then it would be negligent."

In 2009, Mr. Sayres teamed up with Stephen Nislick, chief executive of the development company Edison Properties, which owns Manhattan Mini Storage, to develop a plan to replace the carriage horses with electric-powered replicas of antique cars.

"The cars provide an economic win for the drivers, owners and for the city," Mr. Nislick said.

With $400,000 from the A.S.P.C.A., and a contribution from Mr. Nislick, the two men started NY-Class, a nonprofit organization that has collected more than 55,000 signatures backing city legislation that would carry out their plan.

Their campaign has been roiled, however, by a dispute over the death of a carriage horse named Charlie in October. The A.S.P.C.A. at first quoted its chief equine veterinarian, Dr. Corey, as saying the horse "was not a healthy horse and was likely suffering from pain."

Soon after, Dr. Corey retracted her statement and said the society had pushed her to distort her findings to turn public opinion against the carriages. "I was under a lot of pressure during the writing of that press release," she said.

She said there was no evidence that Charlie was experiencing pain or had been abused.

The society suspended Dr. Corey after she spoke out. She then filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office, contending that on several occasions she had been pressured to slant her professional opinion to help achieve a ban.

A spokeswoman for the A.S.P.C.A., Elizabeth Estroff, said it was baffled by Dr. Corey's claims, adding that Dr. Corey had "ultimately reviewed, edited and approved the final statement" about the horse.

The carriage industry has filed its own complaints with city and state agencies against the A.S.P.C.A. and NY-Class. Some carriage owners have gone to NY-Class meetings, without disclosing their identities. They have recorded discussions that they maintain show that the activists are bent on distorting the carriage industry's record.

On one recording, Mr. Nislick describes efforts to gain the support of city politicians by giving them campaign contributions.

The politicians "want money from people and they want your vote," Mr. Nislick said, according to the recording.

Asked about the recordings, Mr. Nislick declined to comment.

The carriage owners also assert that Mr. Nislick wants to be able to gain control of the land under the carriage horse stables.

Two of the stables are on a prime block between West 37th and 38th Streets in the heart of Hudson Yards, a sprawling commercial and residential development.

Mr. Nislick denied being interested in the land, but other developers envision transforming the lots into hotels and office buildings.

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.

The stables on 37th and 38th Streets are in the district of the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat who is expected to run for mayor. Like Mr. Bloomberg, Ms. Quinn has supported the carriage industry, though she has called recently for increased oversight of the horses.

Two other likely Democratic mayoral candidates - Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, and William C. Thompson Jr., the former city comptroller - have supported the ban, as well as the electric car initiative.

NY-Class and other animal rights groups pledge that if the carriages are eliminated, they will find safe pastures for the 216 horses. But many veterinarians say horse sanctuaries around the country are full, and facing difficulties because of the economy.

"If we banned the carriage horse industry tomorrow, they would go straight to slaughter," said Dr. Nena Winand, an upstate New York veterinarian who is a member of the American Society of Equine Practitioners. "There is no big field out there, there is no one to pay the bills."

Comments

FoA comments on the below: So pulling a carriage would be easier for you than carrying a rider. That's your choice. The horses don't have a choice, and not having a choice is the basis of all exploitation. Most of you don't get it! Pulling a carriage is far easier on a horse than carrying a rider. Don't believe me do you...well, lets put this into perspective. For those of you that have children; is it easier to carry your kids or is it easier to push them in the stroller? by pushing them their weight is distributed evenly on the wheels making it a much easier task than having to carry them. The same principal applies to carriage horses. a normal vis a vis carriage (seats 4 and a driver) weighs about 100-200lbs rolling weight. The average leather harness weighs about 35-50lbs and it is distributed over the entire horse's body...unlike a saddle that is positioned to have all the weight centered on its back. A normal leather Western Saddle can weigh up to 75lbs. Add your average american rider (about 175lbs) and your looking at about 250lbs bearing down on the horse's back. Additionally, your average riding horse weighs around 1000lbs. Your average carriage horse weighs about 1800lbs. Some may exceed 2200lbs- that's more than some cars!! Horses are perfectly able to stand for 4-6 hours straight...in fact most will only lay down for an hour or two a day. While they do need those two hours to get their appropriate amount of REM sleep, they do not have the sleep patterns of humans. Many of you have stated that the horses appear "unhappy", "uncomfortable", "sad", "overworked". Horses, do not have human emotions. They have horse emotions. And what may look sad or depressing to a human is actually a comfortable and relaxed horse. Its important to understand equine body language to be able to get an adequate understanding of how a horse may be feeling. For example, a horse with his head held high, eyes wide open and ears pricked forward, is most likely a horse that is unsure of something ahead. It could be danger, something unfamiliar and needs to be stared at. If the horse deems it to be scary, there is a good chance (if your riding) that you'll be dismounted in his efforts to escape. Adversely, a horse with his ears pinned flat on his neck, is PISSED. He's angry and may attack. Then there's a nice relaxed horse...ears slightly back (some actually flop to the sides) head at a relaxed level or low, hind foot cocked, and (for boys) a relaxed penis. These horses are not sad, they're not sick, they're not upset...they are just content and a content horse is a happy horse. Another comment that is commonly seen is that people "cannot stand the way these horses are treated." let me ask you this? Do you really know how these horses are treated? Have you ever actually asked the driver what goes into the preparation of getting the horse ready for the day and how much training is envolved? Have you ever asked where the horses sleep or if the stables offer tours (many do!, especially the ones in NYC) I f you want to do something for them, learn about them! Blabbering off like an ignorant baffoon isnt going to get you anywhere. This is my other favorite quote: "Let’s get these horses where they really belong—-out of the city and into the country." Do you have any idea how many horses live their entire lives in a tiny 12'x12' pen all over the country...people have horses on their property just because they can, but they don't know how to feed it, care for it, or clean up after it. Do you know how many horses all over the "countryside" that are starving in a "pasture" because their idiot owner thought that weeds were sufficient nutrients? countless! Horses built our cities and are the greenest form of transportation around. If anything, we should be working to get cars out of the city, not horses! In closing, the majority of carriage horses are treated well and respected by their owners and handlers. As with anything, there are going to be a few people that make everyone else look bad. Those bad eggs are not the norm and more people need to understand that!

You cannot mix modern traffic and horses! It isn't safe for the horses or people. Bloomberg needs to stop this asap. It is cruel to the horses. All the horses look so sad.

"Those you can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire Ban the horse driven carriages! Sign me up to rescue one of the horses and board them. The city is no place for these sentient creatures. I was recently in NYC and was delighted to see the BIKE-DRIVEN carriages, much better for the environment and people!! It is a win-win.

This article is by no means objective. No activists were interviewed. Where are the pictures taken of the fallen horses? Or of the carriage horse drivers threatening protestors? We need to comment on this.

These animals are NOT cared for well, time to get them off the dangerous streets.

I am agreed to ban horse carriages

Those horses deserve a better life.

No person in their right mind would put a horse in an environment like this. The horse pictured looks sad and is not well looked after who would would want the public to see you driving an animal looking like this.

Ban the abuse and use of horses.enough already

The carriage horse busines should be banned everywhere and for good. This is an unnatural lifestyle for the horses. They are worked for too long in dangerous conditions, and most of them come to the trade after they have already been worn out, e.g., by the Amish or by riding stables. If the horses are threatened with either work or slaughter because sanctuaries are full, I suggest another alternative: euthanasia. While a truly sad option, it is better than the horses' being worked to death on the streets, getting hit by vehicles, or ending up on a truck for slaughter.

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