Horse Drawn Carriages
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Horse Drawn Carriages

TRADITION, OR CRUELTY?

Local Residents join coalition to get horse-drawn carriages off NYC streets

By Jessica Rosero - Hudson Reporter - July 30, 2006

The tradition of taking a carriage ride through Central Park has been observed by lovers, moviemakers and tourists in the Big Apple. But three accidents in the last six months have spurred a group of concerned individuals from North Jersey and New York to push legislation that will ban horse-drawn carriages in Manhattan.

"The romantic aspect is an illusion that is really false, extremely exploitative, and cruel to these horses," said Edita Birnkrant of New York, one of the founding members of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. "It sends a message that animals are here for our use, and that we are not being progressive in ways that other cities have."

A recent tragedy sparked Union City resident Leeanndra Woeckener to join in the Coalition and help the fight to get horse-drawn carriages off of Manhattan streets.

Union City residents get involved

"I had heard about Spotty [a horse] on the news and I was very upset about it," said Woeckener, who commutes to New York.

In January, a horse named Spotty was euthanized after suffering extensive injuries due to a collision with a station wagon near Central Park South.

Woeckener said, "Not too long after reading the story, I was commuting home from Manhattan toward the Lincoln Tunnel, and a horse and buggy was in front of my bus. I had no idea that they were in that congested area. It was very upsetting and prompted me to volunteer."

Woeckener started working with Birnkrant's group, and has been getting neighbors involved.

Woeckener is hoping that her example will spur others from Hudson County and North Jersey to support the cause.

Coalition

The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages started after the Spotty incident in January. At least three people were injured, and the horse had to be put to sleep.

"[We're] a group of animal activists in the city realized that this was necessary," said Birnkrant, who works full-time for an animal group in New York. "This accident in part shows how dangerous the industry really is, which is why we are pushing for a ban."

According to the Coalition, "Horse-drawn carriages constitute a danger to people in vehicles, pedestrians, and bike-riders in New York City, one of the most traffic congested cities in the United States."

"There are more cars than ever on the roads, and more people," said Birnkrant. "It's not good enough to just regulate them to Central Park, and even if restricted to the park, they are still posing a danger and a threat."

However, representatives of the industry claim that the dangers are exaggerated.

"Our accident rate is extremely low," said Conor McHuegh, manager of the Clinton Park Stables. "The Coalition is responding to one tragic accident that we had last January. Our business is one of the safest businesses in the city from an accident standpoint. There are more incidents of people being killed on bicycles, and we haven't had a [human] fatality in our business ever, and this was the first time in 25 years a horse was severely injured where it had to be euthanized."

The tragedy of Spotty

Five-year-old Spotty, who had only arrived in New York City from West Side Livery a few months prior, was on the way back to the stables when he collided with a station wagon at the intersection of Ninth Avenue and 50th Street.

Spotty's driver was flung from the carriage before crashing into the station wagon. Spotty ended up pinned under the car.

It took the police and Fire Department a half hour to rescue the horse, but his left front leg was badly injured.

Since the tragedy, other accidents have occurred.

On April 28, a 71-year-old bicyclist was seriously injured and suffered a broken hip after a runaway horse-carriage crashed into him in Central Park.

On May 5, a carriage horse was startled by traffic noise at the intersection of 46th Street and 11th Avenue, which sent him running and crashing into a car. The driver of the car was injured and taken to the hospital.

"In every case, it was because the horses were spooked," said Birnkrant. "Horses are flight animals, and when frightened, their instinct is to run. It's a disaster waiting to happen."

Good life, or life in slavery?

The Coalition also complains that the horses don't have good living conditions in their stables.

But McHuegh said, "In the stables I run, all the horses live in box stalls. We have never been issued a violation of any description by any agency that regulates us, and we are inspected by the New York Health Department, the ASPCA, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and the Police Department, so I don't think their claims stand up. I feel the horses are better off there than anywhere else."

The Coalition feels that the city is an unhealthy and unnatural environment for the horses considering that they are subjected the elements such as car exhaust, and due to the fact that the industry's five stables are located on the far west side of Manhattan, where the horses must travel heavily trafficked streets.

"What they endure in the industry is also really awful," said Birnkrant. "They work nine hours a day in extreme weather conditions. Horses are not well suited to walking on the hard pavement."

But McHuegh said that was not true.

"Our business is regulated, and to make one of the things clear, they don't walk all day; we walk shifts," said McHuegh. "It's just a propaganda machine, and some people don't know any better and they believe it. Some cities are trying to encourage people to have horse-drawn carriages, and most of them try to model their business after New York."

But other cities around the world have already banned the use of horse-drawn carriages, including Paris, Toronto, and some smaller cities in the United States.

The group has since drawn up legislation to completely ban the horse-drawn carriages, and has been collecting petition signatures to present to New York's City Council.

"We have one council member who is willing to sponsor our legislation," said Birnkrant.

Getting the word out

Since January, the group has taken five to 10 volunteers every Saturday at Central Park South between 59th and 58th Streets, just across from the carriage pick-ups.

"I see a mixed response from people," said Donny Moss, a volunteer who lives in Manhattan and works in Nutley, N.J. "Some people get it right away because they live here, but I don't think it has occurred to most people that it is a problem and an issue."

They also have a separate petition online.

"We have a tremendous amount of support from New Yorkers and tourists," said Birnkrant.

People in the area of the horses last weekend had mixed reactions.

"I saw the horses and I just felt appalled," said Katha Kerr, of Canada. "It's so cruel for them to be out in the noise and the traffic, and I don't think they are that well treated."

"I feel sorry for the horses, and frankly, I think they're a nuisance," said Robin Reardon, who lives near the park. "It's not good for the horse; it's not good for the people who live here. They smell bad, they clog up traffic, and it makes me sad to see them."

Still there are others who disagree, and many tourists who continue to take carriage rides.

"We have had a bus ride, cab ride, a limo ride, and now we took a carriage ride because we wanted to," said Deborah Winchester, who was visiting from Houston with her family. "This is the melting pot of the world."

"When you think of New York City, you think of [carriage rides through Central Park]," added her husband Ron.

"I don't see any cruelty to the animals," Deborah added. "They look like they are well taken care of and not overworked."

Carriage drivers refused to comment, but one said, "[The petitioners] don't bother us at all. They bring us business, actually."

Regulating the industry

Currently, there are laws regulating the horse-drawn carriage industry, which are primarily enforced by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) along with the New York City Police Department and the Department of Health and Consumer Affairs.

"For decades, people have been fighting for these horses and trying to get bans, but a lot of people compromise, and we see that it doesn't work," said Birnkrant.

The Coalition says that with the ASPCA covering all humane issues within the five boroughs, they are not adequately enforcing the regulations for the more than 200 horses in the industry.

The proposed legislation calls for a two-year phase-out, with job training for drivers and other employees in the industry, and relocation of the horses.

For more information about the coalition visit www.banhdc.org.

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