Central Park is one of the most beautiful, peaceful places inside one of the most hectic, fast-paced environments in the world. But among the serene landscape is an untold, disturbing and hidden form of legalized animal abuse. I have personally witnessed, horses on the hottest days of summer with no water and sun blisters being forced to pull heavy carts with 6 adults inside. I’ve witness taxi cabs laying on their horns for at least 10 seconds in order to make a point to a buggy owner. I have seen horses just start working in the beginning of a downpour and I have even seen horses working late into the early morning.
Each time I pass Central Park, I hold my breath and wonder what form of abuse I will witness on this day. But alas, I am not the only one. Celebrities including Alec Baldwin, Pink, Chrissie Hynde and Sharon & Ozzy Osbourne have all denounced this industry and support the ban on New York City carriage horses. Donny Moss, a stand-up comedian, looked further into the industry. What began as a short video for YouTube turned into a feature-length documentary, Blinders, which chronicles in heartbreaking detail the horses’ joyless days and dismal living conditions. The documentary has been screened at dozens of film festivals throughout North America and won several awards.
Watch a clip from the movie “Blinders”
Smoothie, a horse who had been forced to pull carriages in New York City, died in a tragic accident after she was spooked by street musicians and bolted, crashing into a tree.
Thousands of New Yorkers, including City Councilmember Tony Avella protested for a citywide ban on horse-drawn carriages and all the animal protection bills that have gone nowhere in the City Council since Christine Quinn has been in office and to demand public hearings. Once these bills are introduced into the Council, they are assigned to Committee where they are forgotten. There are at least eight bills. In December 2007, Mr. Avella introduced Intro 658, the bill to ban horse-drawn carriages. However, the protests and signed petitions still seem to fall on deaf ears as the bill has yet to be passed. See other Councilmembers who have signed on as co-sponsors www.banhdc.org/news.shtml
Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Coalition for NYC Animals, Inc. stated that Quinn has done nothing about these bills, although studies have shown that animal issues are important to many people who see a legislator’s attitude to animals as a reflection of his/hers compassion and character.
Edita Birnkrant from ‘Friends of Animals,’ explained the reason behind the complete ban, rather than a seemingly more realistic compromise. “They are prey animals, their response to the things that make them scared, the things that make New York ‘New York,’ is to run. What does that mean? That means that this is a big public safety risk and there’s just no way to get around that, unless we can take away all the noise and the people and the traffic and the chaos – we need to do the right thing for the horses which is to get them off the streets, and put them in sanctuaries where they can live out their lives in peace and leave these miserable lives of abuse,” said Birnkrant. If the bill is passed, the horses will be retired, and according to Birnkrant there are many groups across the country willing to adopt the retired workhorses.
The carriage horse industry and the horses they exploit should be out to pasture. This sad spectacle in the heart of 21st century Manhattan (some heart!) is a relic of the past that should go the way of human slavery. Like the slave owners before them, those who profit from the carriage trade contend that their slaves are happy and well treated and, furthermore, they would be worse off if they weren’t under the protection of their benign enslavement.
Now that public concern is growing, we’re seeing threats and violence directed against those working to retire horse-drawn carriages and the slaves who pull them in our streets (these are the type of people who care for animals?).
This means of transportation may have been effective in the 1800s, but it certainly does not belong on the congested streets of 21st Century Manhattan.
In a city that seems to be falling behind in all aspects of worldwide dominance, this is not surprising. Futuristic cities such as London, Paris, Toronto and Beijing have banned horse drawn carriages years ago.
I had a chance to speak with Jenny Chou who is the volunteer Treasurer for the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages and donates most of her time to animal charities.
ASIANCE: What made you join this group and how important is it to you?
Jenny: In my “prior” career/job roles I worked in finance. Since leaving the industry, I have been exploring other avenues of work (via volunteering, classes, etc.) that I feel more passionately about. I have been working as a volunteer for a short time with Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages.
When I moved to the City about 4 1/2 years ago, I would see the carriages, which bothered me quite a bit, although at the time, I was not aware of this organization. Last year, an article appeared in the New York Times that once again drew my attention to the carriage industry (because a horse had been hit), as well as the Coalition and its mission to take the horses off the street. I had since become more aware of horse related issues because I had been riding for some time after having moved to the City.
I have been trying to promote this issue within my social circle for about a year, but only recently (in the last 6 or so months), after I left finance have I been afforded the opportunity to be more active with social causes.
ASIANCE: What is taking so long to get these horses off the street?
Jenny: In short, existing legislation makes it allowable for horses to be ‘rented’ for a fee. There are few constraints to entering this industry, and even fewer agencies to enforce regulations. It is also relatively inexpensive to apply for a rental horse license (for $25 a license is granted annual renewal thereafter, is also $25).
Drivers, also do not need a NYS driving license.
Another reason why this is taking so long is because the industry has a lot of political clout. A bill in the City Council – Intro 658 – is sponsored by Council Member Tony Avella. City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, has the support of the Queens Democratic Club. Thomas Manton, the late head of the club and a prominent supporter of the carriage industry anointed her [Quinn] as speaker (although speakers are supposed to be chosen by the council). It is also important to note that, Quinn, who is Speaker, holds one of the most powerful positions in City government, second only to the Mayor.
Because of this, many Council members are hesitant to sign up for fear of repercussions from Quinn. Under Quinn – bills on animal protection have largely been ignored.
Other reasons fall under the guise of tourism and unemployment. Given the current state of the local economy (reshaping of Wall Street landscape, massive bailouts for the financial sector) and weak dollar, the City will be even less likely to make this issue a priority. However, who will stop visiting New York City just because horse-drawn carriage rides no longer exist? Nor do carriage rides exactly constitute as skilled labor.
ASIANCE: I agree with you. I see these horses out on hot, humid days with NO water all day, when I am sweating bullets just walking down one block.
Jenny: Your comments and questions are pretty much on target. I have not noted these horses receiving water the very many times I have walked by. Just once (in the 4 1/2 years that I have been in the City), I saw a horse eating oats out of a bucket.
ASIANCE: What improvements have been made, if any?
Jenny: There are virtually no improvements that have been made to reform the industry. Visit Central Park South any day of the week, and you will find horse drawn carriages parked along 59th Street, if the stench of horse urine and feces do not find their way to your olfactory senses first. However, Intro 658, a bill introduced and supported by Council member, Tony Avella, would place a ban on horse drawn carriages. Other current supporters include: Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, Melissa MarkViverito, Rosie Mendez, Annabel Palma and David Yassky. Suggestions made in the NYC Comptroller’s Audit, June 2007, was publicized by the New York Times in September 2007 have yet to be enacted. These suggestions include shade on the hackline and access to water.
ASIANCE: What else can we do?
Jenny: We need to continue to raise awareness which includes being vocal. Collecting signatures and raising the necessary funds are imperative in keeping this issue alive. In addition, with an upcoming mayoral election it is crucial to place Tony Avella, who is opposed to this industry, in office.
Unfortunately, Quinn’s association with a group that supports horse-drawn carriages speaks volumes. Noteworthy also is that Mayor Bloomberg’s daughter, Georgina, is an accomplished equestrian, yet [the Mayor] has not publicly denounced the industry.
ASIANCE: Remember, animals are not ours to abuse and use for any form of entertainment, gambling or money making purposes.
Classic hybrid cars can make a comeback – “ Destination Green NYC is a group committed to promoting ecotourism in New York City. They are proposing a line of eco-friendly and horse-friendly electric hybrid touring cars to replace horse-drawn carriages.
More information on
Join the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages
What else you can do:
Urge NYC Officials to Support a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ban
Please send a polite but firm letter to Mayor Bloomberg and New York City Councilmembers
City Hall, New York, NY 10007
212-788-2460 (Mayor’s fax)