Maybe it is the ridiculous outfits that they have no idea they’re wearing. Maybe it is the fact that I live near one of their “stables” by the West Side Highway– that location is unnatural enough for me, let alone an animal. Or maybe it’s because whenever you see them, they’re walking, walking, always walking.
For one or all of these reasons, horse-drawn carriages in New York City have always struck me as inherently and blatantly wrong. I am not a “horse person.” I did not grow up with horses, I never begged my parents for one, and I know next to nothing about them. But I do know that I get a distinct feeling when a horse-drawn carriage passes by: guilt.
Maybe that guilt is because I accept them as a part of the city, without ever investigating the answers to very natural and obvious questions. Why are there so many horses in New York City? How often do they get out to pasture? Aren’t they ever afraid of the cars? Aren’t drivers ever afraid of them? Would they have any interest whatsoever in walking that many miles a day if there wasn’t someone making them? Why are they dressed up like circus animals? As always seems to be the case, I feel like I am on the outside, looking in at the animals when they clop by.
That guilty feeling is kind of ironic, considering it is the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene who happens to be in charge of monitoring and licensing New York City’s horse-drawn carriages and stables. Yea. The only thing that makes less sense than that is that the Department of Consumer Affairs is the co-supervisor of this operation. In 2007, an audit done by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., found that:
the DOHMH [failed] to establish the required advisory board to oversee the health and safety of horses. As a result, DOHMH lacked written rules regarding the horses’ health and safety. The ASPCA regularly and voluntarily inspected the horses and their stables, but had no contract or official agreement with the City for the work. Auditors noted that the ASPCA could cease or reduce inspections at any time, leaving a void in the City’s program to protect horses.
13 CITYLAW 116 (2007).
So basically, outside of the ASPCA, the City has no formal system of protection for one of its most cherished tourist absurdities attractions.
I checked out the current NYC Comptroller website to find a more recent audit report. John C. Liu’s audit from 2010 was not much more encouraging (for the link, “CTRL+F” search for “horse-drawn” to find the relevant section). Several issues were spotlighted, such as:
- unlicensed horses may be working after licenses have expired;
- DOHMH inspectors do not use a detailed stable inspection form to record stable inspections;
- Department of Consumer Affairs continues to be noncompliant with the Administrative Code and the Rules of the City of New York that require they conduct carriage inspections at least once every four months.
So despite the glaring loopholes in the administrative regulation of them (what exactly are the DOHMH inspectors using, exactly?), one might wonder what is so bad about horse-drawn carriages in the first place. We used to use horses as a main method of transportation anyway, right? (Side note: we used to do a lot of things.) I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I saw Kelly Clarkson on the side of a bus stop on 10th Avenue in an advertisement to “Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages in New York City.” I just assumed horse-drawn carriages were a fact of New York City life, never to be questioned; they have been around for a while, after all. After doing some light research, I realized this is somewhat of a hot topic; the go-to website for the movement seems to be here. To me, horse-drawn carriages are the equivalent of circus animals, and the cruelty issues that arise from keeping them are equally disturbing.
If you are thinking of visiting New York City, do the responsible thing and get a pedicab. You will be tipping a person who is actually doing the manual labor, and you still get the novelty of an open-air ride through Central Park. (Also, stop standing in the middle of the sidewalk to take pictures.) As for people who live in New York, suffice to say you are probably not riding in horse-drawn carriages very often. If the idea of forced animal labor doesn’t exactly pull at your heartstrings, a true New Yorker will at least admit that she’s annoyed by the traffic congestion caused by the carriages.
I am not really sure what the status of the NYC movement against horse-drawn carriages is (you can check out other thought-provoking posts on this topic here and here), but I think awareness is a key element to the progress of any movement. So the n ext time you see a horse in full circus gear in the middle of Times Square, please do not mistake it as a charming tourist attraction, and see it for what it is: wrong.