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Horse Drawn Carriages

NYC carriage horse's death revives criticism about safety

Associated Press -  - 15 September 2007

NEW YORK CITY- A carriage horse's death in a dramatic crash near Central Park has renewed animal-rights activists' concerns about the animals' lot on frenetic city streets.

A startled horse bolted into a tree and died Friday afternoon, spooking another horse that darted into traffic and collided with a car. The accident came amid heightened scrutiny of the carriage horse industry in the wake of a city report last week, and it followed years of concerns about the animals' living conditions and safety.

"Horses shouldn't be in traffic," said Elizabeth Forel, one of several protesters who gathered near the park after Friday's incident.

A spokeswoman for the Horse & Carriage Association of New York, Carolyn Daly, called the episode "a freak accident." She said it was an overwhelming blow to an industry that cares deeply about its animals.

Witnesses said the first horse, a mare named Smoothie, was startled by a street performer playing a drum, said Joseph Pentangelo, assistant director of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Smoothie ran nearly a block along the sidewalk on the park's southern edge before slamming into the tree, witnesses said.

"It fell into a panic and then fell on the ground, kicking," said witness Roger Watkins, 59. He said the horse then appeared to go into shock.

The hubbub frightened the second horse, which took off into the busy street, carriage still attached. The buggy hit a Mercedes Benz sedan, and both vehicles sustained minor damage.

"It ran straight toward my car _ it came face-first," said the car's driver, Layquan Rakin, 22, of Queens. "I thought it was going to run right up my car."

Smoothie, 13, had been a carriage horse for only a year, Daly said. The horse's owner, Cornelius Byrne, said Smoothie was generally gentle, blaming the drum for the animal's deadly flight.

"She was playful. She was special," Byrne said.

Some 221 licensed horses, 293 drivers and 68 licensed carriages offer horse-drawn rides in the city. Horses have taken fright and dashed into traffic on several previous occasions, including an incident last year in which a carriage driver was injured, and the horse had to be euthanized.

Activists have long tried to ban horses from city streets, but they have been up against tradition and tourists' affection for the iconic, old-fashioned Central Park rides, often featured in movie scenes.

Actress Mary Tyler Moore sought more humane treatment of carriage horses as part of an ASPCA campaign in 2000. Activists for years criticized the conditions at some of the stables serving Central Park, saying they were decrepit, cramped and noisy.

The ASPCA said last year that conditions had improved considerably in the previous decade.

However, City Comptroller William Thompson released an audit last week that found carriage horses labor without enough water, shade or oversight from authorities. The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which regulates the horses and stables, said the city was acting on the audit's recommendations.,0,4189907.story

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