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Efforts to Ban NYC Horse-Drawn Carriages

Just last month, there was a rally outside City Hall for individuals to speak out against NYC’s carriage-horse industry.

From its inception during the time of World War II until the 1980s, the horse-drawn carriage industry in NYC went virtually unregulated, a classic example of politics at play. But as automobile traffic increased and accidents started happening in the streets, people started taking notice and advocating for a ban on horse-drawn carriages. Other cities already have done so – including London and Paris. The New York City Bar Association has been among the ban’s supporters.

In New York, approximately 200 horses are subject to walking the asphalt up to nine hours a day, seven days a week, even in extreme temperatures. Helplessly mixed in with cars and trucks, they are exposed to fumes all day long (“nose to tailpipe”) and can become spooked by the city’s noises and general chaos. Even if the carriages were limited to Central Park, as they have been in the past, the horses still have to navigate the traffic-heavy streets while getting to and from work. And, when a carriage and a car collide — as they have numerous times — the result is never anything short of heart-wrenching.

Beyond the working conditions and safety issues while the horses are in the public eye, at the end of the workday, the conditions these horses have at “home” are just as dire: the multi-storied stables of Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues are not the happy pastoral settings we tend to envision. Furthermore, when the horses have become too old to be of use to the industry, they are sold for slaughter.

The industry’s response has been to suggest that, rather than a ban, all that’s needed is more effective regulation. The latest legislation regarding the industry in New York was Law 35-A, enacted in April 2010. The law, on its surface, looks promising from an animal welfare perspective, offering the horses five weeks each year outside of the city, fewer working hours, better living conditions, and restrictions in terms of acceptable “working” outside temperatures. Unfortunately, the purpose of Law 35-A was mainly to placate the public and take the media’s focus off the industry following a series of accidents and negative publicity. Not only are the regulations not enough, but they also are not well enforced.

For a comprehensive look at the history of New York’s horse-drawn carriage industry, see Katherine Hutchinson’s “Should They Go the Way of the Horse and Buggy?” in Animal Law, volume 17 (2010). Also, a news report by HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell that aired this summer highlights the most recent efforts by citizens and legislators for this cause.

Simply put, horses have no business in the NYC traffic of the 21st century. It’s time to follow the lead of other major cities and ban the horse-drawn carriage industry altogether from the city’s streets. Groups such as the  Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and NYCLASS are working to bring an end to the ongoing cruelty of the horse-drawn carriage industry in New York City. The efforts include a recommendation that horse-drawn carriages be replaced with vintage cars that will appeal to tourists and keep the drivers in jobs.

I hope my New York friends – and readers everywhere — will lend their voices to this cause. The reality of the horse-drawn carriages is New York is about as far away from a fairytale as one can get; but, with a ban on these and their replacement with vintage cars, we can still give these equine New Yorkers the happy ending they deserve.

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Author: Sharon Discorfano

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