Your Pleasure, Their Pain:The Problem with Central Park’s Horse Drawn Carriages

Gabrielle Scibetta

As an animal protection organization homed in Brooklyn, New York, Voters For Animal Rights (VFAR) sheds light on the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals in New York and lobbies for stronger protections. On December 20, 2020, VFAR published a heartbreaking incident that occurred in Central Park, noting that this is hardly an isolated event. While pulling a carriage of people on a cold, snowy day, a horse by the name of Billy slipped and fell on the ice in Central Park. Rather than caring for the horse and bringing it to rest and recover, the driver allegedly forced the horse to continue pulling the passengers. As such, the VFAR organization is pushing citizens to sign a petition to #BanHorseCarriages and demanding recourse (See Photo Below. See also, https://vfar.org/carriagehorses/ ).

Historically, horse drawn carriages were the primary form of transportation, for both practical and commercial needs. As time progressed, they became a symbol of style and elegance. Nearing the end of the 1800s, motorized transportation was invented and has since taken over as the leading vessel for all travel needs.  Today, horse drawn carriages are used as a form of pleasure, attracting tourists near and far. Parading through Central Park, customers can enjoy a carriage ride and a New York City view, at the expense of a horse or two.

Voters for Animal Rights — Central Park

Until 2018, NYC’s horse drawn carriages were citywide, trotting the busy city roads among cars and busses. However, in response to the years-long controversy surrounding such carriage rides, they were re-located to Central Park – in an effort to reduce potential harm to the animal.  While this was a small victory for animal rights activists, horse and carriage operators were not pleased. In response to the City’s plan to restrict carriage pickup locations to within Central Park, one particular horse and carriage business owner, Giovanni Paliotta, brought suit against Mayor Bill De Blasio and the City of New York. The early-2019 opinion weighed the harms presented, permitting the Mayor and the city to move forward with confining carriage rides to Central Park. (See Paliotta v. De Blasio, 2019 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 547). 

Unfortunately, such harm still exists in permitting horse drawn carriages, regardless of the location in which they service. The inhumane and cruel treatment horses face to provide trivial human enjoyment is disturbing and sad.  PETA outlines some of the harms that occur by forcing horses to pull oversized carriages in all weather extremes. While the exhaust fumes horses breathe in may cause respiratory ailments, some suffer debilitating leg problems attributed to long hours on hard surfaces. Because of their sensitive and skittish nature, horses have been known to get spooked – injuring themselves and people alike. Moreover, horses have been hit and seriously injured by reckless drivers while laboring the streets for the public’s amusement.

(See https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/horse-drawn-carriages/ ).

On February 29, 2020, a horse was euthanized after collapsing in Central Park. Prior, on February 4, 2020, a driver lost control of a carriage horse after it stepped on an electrical plate, receiving excruciating shocks. A pedestrian watched as the horse ran several blocks, before crashing into a pole and collapsing. (See https://secure.mediapeta.com/peta/PDF/HDC_Incidents_Factsheet_JO.pdf )  These incidents happen regularly and habitually, such that each should come as no surprise to legislature. State administrators are aware and yet turn a blind eye to these horrific events. Horse drawn carriage rides have actually been banned in cities such as Las Vegas, London, Toronto, Paris, and Beijing, to name a few. New York City neglects to follow suit, despite the ruthless living and working conditions employed right on their very streets. 

The Animal Welfare Act was introduced in 1966 in order to regulate the treatment of animals throughout research and exhibition. However, horses operating carriages are not protected by the Act, leaving local animal-control officials responsible for ensuring their safety. This task falls low on the list of priorities for animal-control officials, allowing major concerns like traffic accidents, heat stroke, dehydration, underfeeding, and copious other threats fly under the radar. The temporary pleasure society reaps from a 20-minute carriage ride hardly amounts to the immense pain and torture these voiceless horses face on a day-to-day basis.

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