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Horse Drawn Carriages

Drummer Denies He Intentionally Spooked Horse That Died

16 September 2007 - NEW YORK TIMES

In an unquiet city like New York, Fifth Avenue and 59th Street is especially known for its uproar. Double-decker buses rumble past. Taxicabs honk. Tourists mill. Workers refurbish the Plaza Hotel.

All the while, up to 20 horses quietly stand by, waiting to take passengers on carriage rides in Central Park.

On Friday, one of them bolted after it was apparently startled by a loud noise. The horse, a 13-year-old mare named Smoothie, ran nearly a block, and when her carriage became caught on a tree, she collapsed and died.

Witnesses told reporters that somebody walking past and beating a small drum may have been the source of the noise.

James Williams, the drummer who had been playing near Smoothie’s carriage, said yesterday, “We did not do anything malicious, like walk up and hit a drum in a horse’s ear.”

Yesterday Mr. Williams, who plays for tips, found himself facing the kind of attention he did not want. Reporters asked him where he had been playing and how loudly. Horse owners complained about him and the break-dancing group, Two Steps Away, that he accompanied on Friday.

The Horse and Carriage Association of New York said it planned to hold a news conference this afternoon at 59th and Fifth to call on the city to ban street musicians and “overly loud” music in the area. The group said it also would ask the city to provide secure hitching posts for the horses, which are often tethered to trash cans and street lamps.

Mr. Williams, whose stage name is Ayan, plays a full set of six drums and four cymbals. He said he did not know until yesterday morning that a horse had collapsed on Friday, and he was upset by the implication that he had scared it.

“Spooking a horse right here could mean a baby carriage getting run over, or a person hurt,” he said.

Noel Kelly, 49, a carriage driver who said he was positioned behind the carriage drawn by Smoothie, said he had seen the break dancers before, but not accompanied by drums.

“It was like a rock concert,” Mr. Kelly said yesterday. “I commented to another driver that these drums are very, very loud.” But Mr. Kelly’s horse, Chester, who is 7 years old, did not bolt.

Cornelius Byrne, owner of Smoothie and four other carriages and their horses, said yesterday, “It’s a deep human error on their part to make that music around these horses.”

Yesterday, to avoid a repeat, Parks Department officers asked Mr. Williams and the break dancers to move to another area.

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