January 25, 2008 -- The New York City Council is considering legislation to ban horse-drawn carriages from the streets of Manhattan.
"It's just not a natural thing to have a horse-drawn carriage in an urban setting like New York City," said the Councilman Tony Avella (D-Queens) after introducing the bill December 13. The legislation is supported by several animal rights organizations, including the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages.
His proposal, Avella says, is "about more than the accidents. It's about the day-to-day humane concerns of horses in the city. They don't have turnout. They live in multistory buildings. There was a time they fit into the city, but that time has passed."
According to the Horse & Carriage Association of New York, 220 carriage horses are registered with the city; 68 carriages, owned by 40 operators, are active in Manhattan. They operate in Central Park from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and have a wider territory later in the evening. The horses may work one nine-hour shift in a 24-hour period. Carriages do not operate when the temperature reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Carriage operators and supporters say animal rights activists are misguided in their assessment of the horses' well-being.
"All of the horses are exceptionally well cared for," says Stephen Malone, a second-generation carriage driver who owns Clinton Park Stables. "They have to be. They are our livelihood. It is certainly in my best interest to take the best possible care of my animals." Malone has six horses who rotate every eight weeks between stables in Manhattan and Pennsylvania.
Though accidents occur--in September a city carriage horse died after being spooked by a street musician--Malone says the industry's safety record is very good. He estimates that "there are about 275,000 trips to and from the park by carriages each year. We had only four accidents in the past year." Malones adds that carriage stables are often visited by health department officials and inspectors from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to ensure the horses are well cared for.
To become law, the proposed legislation must be approved by the City Council and signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has said the horses are well cared for and should remain a New York City fixture.
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of EQUUS magazine.