Carriage-Horses and the Soul of the New York City: Have we destroyed the charm?

Christine Murphy

For some, the vision of a horse-drawn carriage is romantic, with a charm that cannot be matched.

“Horses have walked the streets of New York since the seventeenth century—Broadway was actually carved by them—and for generations they’ve been cherished mascots of tradition, reminding us that for all the ways the city changes, it never completely burns away its layered soul of New Amsterdam hustle, Revolutionary-era imperiousness, and Gilded Age Image for second blog postgentility.”-New York Magazine

             But the reality is that once we stop and think about the horses used in this industry, it’s downright cruel. Should these animals have to endure intolerable conditions purely for our entertainment?

The New York City Administrative Code has regulations in place for the carriage horse industry. Title 17 sets forth licensing requirements and provides conditions that must be met for the health of the horses. It discusses their living quarters, requiring them to be clean and dry, with sufficient straw. The horses are not permitted to work more than nine hours in a twenty-four hour period. Further, they are required to have at least five weeks vacation at a horse stable in a twelve month period.  These are only a few of the requirements listed in this title. But it is extremely difficult, and almost impossible, to find out if this law is being upheld.

In the case of a horse named Blondie, a police officer observed that the horse had an injury to its rear leg and was struggling to pull the weight of his carriage. Despite this, Blondie was forced to work for five hours that day. In another case, Ceasar, an asthmatic, 22 year old horse was forced to pull a carriage because his owner switched his identification for that of a younger, 12 year old horse. Also, heat exhaustion is a major concern for these horses and caused the death of a horse named Misty.

The Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages has been working to put an end to this industry since 2006. One of the major issues they identify is the enforcement of laws currently in place. There are 21 ASPCA agents for the City of New York (who are, on occasion, called upon to cover additional portions of the State of New York) and there are 68 carriages and over 200 horses to regulate. This is not realistic. It is a wonderful step that laws are in place on behalf of the horses, but what good are they if they cannot be enforced?

On December 8, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a bill to eliminate the carriages in New York City by the middle of 2016, with exceptions for film sets and parades only. He also has alternatives in place for the carriage drivers that will lose their jobs, including job training classes and licenses to operate cabs outside Manhattan.

Such a ban would be a much needed step forward and provide a positive outcome for the horses as they would no longer be at the mercy of these carriages. Turning our cheek to this reality is no longer an option, we must look at the cost of enjoying this luxury. These animals are victims of cruelty and we cannot sit back and relax, while they clomp down the street with no protection and care of their own.

One Response

  1. I am on the list to testify before the City Council. I have seen saddlebreds on the hack line. This is one step removed from bear baiting and at least the bear does not suffer for 5 years or more as do the horses.

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