Horse Drawn Carriages
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Horse Drawn Carriages

Carriage horse drivers want changes after Central Park crash
By ADAM GOLDMAN

15 September 2007 - NEW YORK (AP) The horse-drawn carriages that line the streets around Central Park are surrounded by bustle.

Drivers hawk rides to countless tourists. Cars, trucks and buses zip past, creating a cacophony of honks and screeches. People are everywhere. Noisy bands perform in front of a statue of Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.

It was one of those bands a group of break dancers using a drum set that frightened a horse, causing it to gallop down Central Park South until it was fatally injured, several carriage drivers and an owner said.

They say this latest incident the second time in less than two years that a horse got spooked and was killed remains proof that the city must rein in these street performers. They plan to hold a news conference Sunday to publicly call on the city to ban the musicians from horse-staging areas.

"You can't have these guys next to the horses," said Cornelius Byrne, who owns five carriages that operate in Central Park, including the one pulled by 13-year-old Smoothie, the mare that died in Friday's accident.

Another horse, Drudge, a gelding, ran into traffic after spotting a terrified Smoothie but was not injured. No people were hurt.

Carolyn Daly, a spokeswoman for the Horse & Carriage Association, said those involved in the industry want more than a prohibition on live music. They will ask the city to provide hitching posts, hack stands, more water spigots for the animals and better drainage so the horses don't have to stand in their own filth.

Some of the concerns echo those posed in an audit released this month by the city comptroller.

Trish Bertuccio, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Parks and Recreation, said her agency has never met with the association about any problems with street performers.

The Humane Society of the United States said its concerns extend beyond hitching posts and musicians.

"Horses and city traffic are a dangerous and inhumane combination," Executive Vice President Michael Markarian said in a statement, adding that he supports the recommendations made in the comptroller's audit.

On Saturday, some drivers were clearly upset in the wake of Smoothie's death. They eyed "Two Steps Away," the band accused of triggering Smoothie's fatal gallop. They couldn't believe the band had returned to dance in front of the statue. They had particular contempt for its drums.

"It's like you're in a riot," driver Colm McKeever said. "These horses are very well adjusted. They're used to being in the city. But this noise, it's like being in a rock concert."

Malcolm Estwick, one of the dancers, said they've been performing in the area for years. Estwick claimed he didn't know a horse had died. He said the drivers shouldn't blame Smoothie's death on them.

"It's not our fault," he said.

But as Estwick was setting up, a couple of mounted units from the parks department asked them to relocate as a favor.

"It's a very sensitive situation," said Officer Lori Knowles as she sat atop her horse Monte.

Tourists seemed unconcerned.

Alayne Siegmund, of Naugatuck, Conn., said the horse that pulled her carriage did not seem distracted by the urban environment.

"The horse seemed perfectly calm," she said. "He seemed as happy as we were."

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