Horse Drawn Carriages
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Horse Drawn Carriages

Once Around the Park

Published in THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 8, 2007 :

Animal rights activists have long warned that the horses that haul hansom cabs around Central Park had a bad deal. New Yorkers began to pay a bit more attention after a horse collapsed last year before horrified onlookers. Now we learn, not from the horse’s mouth but from City Comptroller Bill Thompson, that some carriage owners may be neglecting their horses and that the city needs to do a better job policing the business.

Some will latch onto the comptroller’s findings as a reason to do away with the carriages altogether. Considering how popular they are with tourists and romantics, that seems drastic.

What’s needed is tighter regulation to ensure the horses get regular checkups, have clean stables and are treated humanely. An equine retirement age would also be a good idea. As a result of the report, the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which are responsible, respectively, for monitoring the carriages and the well-being of the horses, have made commitments to step up their diligence. The health commissioner agreed to organize an oversight board called for some 25 years ago.

The charm of the hansom cabs is that they are a throwback to old New York, “The Age of Innocence” New York. But it’s hard to maintain that innocence in the concrete city that never sleeps. Horses, carriages and their drivers snarl traffic on Central Park South and leave an unmistakable rural essence.

Right now, they have no place else to congregate. The comptroller suggests opening a stable in Central Park, one that could also accommodate the recreational horseback riders who disappeared last spring with the closing of the nearby Claremont stables on the Upper West Side. The idea deserves exploration.

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