New York City carriage horse owners and drivers want to control the fallout from the collapse of an elderly horse on a Midtown street last month.
The carriage industry along with Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents the people who drive them, called Thursday for legislation to bring more oversight to the controversial tourist attraction.
They called on the city Health Department to fill a vacant position for a full-time veterinarian to care for the horses, more training for carriage drivers, and the installation of a new horse stable inside Central Park at 86th St. Transverse.
The group also called for a new watering hole to keep horse-drawn carriages hydrated, and asked the Parks Department to bar cars from Grand Army Plaza at the southeast corner of Central Park and give the space to horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians. .
The proposal comes three weeks after an old horse, Ryder, collapsed from heat exhaustion while pulling a carriage on Ninth Ave. in Hell’s Kitchen.
The incident caught on camera shows the horse driver whipping Ryder and yelling at him to get up. Police later sprayed Ryder as he lay on the asphalt before he was taken away by a veterinarian.
The controversy was the latest page in a decades-long debate in New York City over the ethics of operating horse-drawn carriages in a dense urban environment covered in asphalt.
Animal rights group NYCLASS insists the industry is inhumane and should be banned, while horse-drawn carriage drivers argue that they treat horses well and that carriage rides provide dozens of manual jobs.
“Our horses go on vacation to a farm at least five weeks every year right now, while police horses don’t go on vacation at all,” said Christina Hansen, an industry advocate who has driven pulled carriages. by horses for a decade.
“Our horses do have a range of hundreds of acres in the center of the city. A barn in the park would keep them from riding in everyday traffic,” Hansen said.
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NYCLASS representatives have for weeks pointed to Ryder’s collapse as an example of inhumanity. They point to a lie by the driver, who said that Ryder was 13 years old when he was actually at least 28, as a reason not to trust horse-drawn carriage drivers.
“These are the same people who fought tooth and nail to oppose any improvements to the lives of carriage horses, including the city law that takes horses off the streets on extremely hot days,” said the director. NYCLASS executive, Edita Birnkrant. “After falsely claiming that horses have been treated with exceptional care for years, they now produce a long list of recommendations that only proves what the hell these horses are living in.”
New York City allows 68 horse-drawn carriages to operate in the city, and about 200 horses pull them. The rides are primarily geared towards Central Park tourists, with some of the outsiders encountering screaming NYCLASS protesters complaining about the practice.
Many of the horses go weeks without going out to graze. Even a stable in Central Park might not give them enough room to move freely without stepping on the asphalt, drivers acknowledged. “Asphalt is still better than concrete,” Hansen said.
Local 100 officials blamed former Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose first mayoral campaign was backed by NYCLASS, for failing to improve horse-drawn carriage conditions. The former mayor refused to build a new stable or improve resources for the horses after he reneged on a campaign promise and banned the industry altogether, union officials said.
During his last year in office, de Blasio proposed replacing the draft horses in Central Park with vintage-looking electric cars. The pitch went nowhere fast, and also sizzled early in de Blasio’s term.
“TWU Local 100 is interested in protecting the blue-collar jobs that help more than 130 families put food on the table, pay rent and send their children to school,” said Local 100 President Tony Utano. “We are equally interested in protecting the health and welfare of the carriage horses and the history of Central Park, which was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted specifically to be enjoyed, first and foremost, from a horse-drawn carriage.”