NYC’s strange political brawl over carriage horses

Cross-posted from Politico.com

Carriage Horse Manhattan
New York City Carriage horse, Central Park. Image by Vivian Farrell.

NEW YORK — A political battle is raging here over an iconic mode of transportation you might have used if you visited the city this winter: not the subway or yellow cabs, but Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages.

The fight centers on whether to ban the carriages out of concern for the horses’ welfare. But it has the trappings of a good old-fashioned political brawl: a well-funded network of activists, a powerful union, ambitious mayoral candidates and prime Manhattan real estate.

The strife has been building for a few years, and animal rights activists claimed a major victory in November when their ally, Democrat Bill de Blasio, won the mayoral election, thanks in part to the activists’ attacks on his primary opponent, Christine Quinn.

It’s unclear how aggressively de Blasio will pursue the carriage ban once he takes office in the new year. For now, the activists, aided by a deep-pocketed developer, are vowing to keep up the fight. But with their livelihoods potentially on the line, the carriage drivers aren’t backing down. And they’re getting some powerful backup from the Teamsters union, a political force in labor-friendly New York.

De Blasio aides declined to provide details about the mayor-elect’s work on the issue during the transition, saying only that he is committed to following through on the ban. He attended a fundraiser hosted by animal rights group NYCLASS earlier this month, reportedly receiving a bronze horse statue for his support.

Whatever the de Blasio era brings, it will be felt not just by gaggles of tourists in Central Park, but also by the horses and drivers in the industry’s four stables on the West Side of Manhattan. The manager of Clinton Park Stables on West 52nd Street, Conor McHugh, opened the facility — and the stall of one of his own horses, Arnie — to a reporter two days before Christmas as he mused about the carriages’ future.

“If people didn’t want to ride in our carriages, we would be out of business,” said McHugh, sidestepping a staffer wheeling hay through the stable and greeting a veterinarian who was making rounds. But the demand is there and the industry already hews to many city-imposed regulations, he said.

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7 thoughts on “NYC’s strange political brawl over carriage horses”

  1. From what I saw on the news this morning is that the Mayor is going to ban horse drawn carriages. They are going to replace them with the electric cars that the same drivers would have the job of driving so they would still belong to the Union. They had one driver with his horse standing in the stable where his horse is kept. This stable looked OK but from what the activists said a few years ago was that a lot of the horses are kept in old buildings that are fire traps and the horses are kept in stalls that are to narrow and they can’t lay down to rest. None of these horses belong in cities with the noise, pollution and the very real chance they will be hit by cars or trucks. There were laws passed that forced the drivers of the carriages to make sure the horses were kept watered during the summer and they couldn’t work during the heat of the day this covered working in winter as well.

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  2. These horses have to endure far too much and should not be exposed to daily doses of the toxic fumes they are forced to breath never mind the dangers of accidents with cars and trucks.

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  3. Personally, I would have nothing against horse-drawn carriages as long as the needs and welfare of the horses takes precedence over commerce and not the other way around. I’m an equal opportunity person. The horses are not asking for money. All they want is our respect, care, and appreciation. We can certainly provide for them in this aspect and even more.

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    1. The needs and welfare of the horses are not addressed. IF horses were able to speak, the carriage industry would have been gone long ago. This article and the attendant comments address tourists and teamsters.

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