A few weeks ago, Billy, a carriage horse from Central Park, died of colic in his stable after being forced to work during a heat wave. Four weeks ago, a carriage horse named Freddy ran into oncoming traffic on Fifth Ave. A pedestrian crossing the road was also injured.
These are just the latest tragedies of forcing horses—prey animals that run wild when they’re scared—to pull carriages through vehicular-clogged Midtown. A few weeks earlier, a horse named Luciana had collapsed in the park, and to the horror of many screaming onlookers, the driver tried to drag her by the tail and head and even kicked her, according to witnesses, in a cruel, inappropriate attempt to break it. to get a sick animal back on its feet.
Sad stories about the industry are not new. The horses that pull carriages through Midtown too often are injured or killed, endangering passengers, motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. There is also ample documentation of underweight, sick and injured horses being forced to pull carriages. The city’s carriage horses are housed in warehouse-like buildings on the Far West Side, in undersized stables with little opportunity to move freely or be with other horses. Everything that makes life worth living for a horse is denied them. This must come to an end.
I, together with my colleagues from the city council, have introduced a bill that will replace unsafe, inhumane horse-drawn carriages with innovative and animal-friendly electric carriages without horses. Even if ending animal cruelty is not your main issue, the overlapping issues of labor, economic development and tourism demand your attention. My bill will save these horses from a life of hardship, increase the income for the coachmen and create an impressive tourist attraction.
This legislation doesn’t just replace New York’s horse-drawn carriages; it’s expanding a tourist attraction that allows today’s coachmen to serve more customers, earn more money, and eliminate the controversial animal cruelty that plagues the industry.
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The city would be responsible for establishing a program to lease or sell new electric carriages to prospective owners, prioritizing existing horse taxi owners. Cities in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Mexico have switched to electric vehicles. Interviews with electric vehicle owners in Guadalajara all reported higher incomes, sometimes by as much as 100%. The bill will be discussed in depth and it may be possible to give more drivers, most of whom earn very little and have no horses of their own, a chance to own their new rigging.
Unlike horses, which need rest and cannot perform in extreme weather, these carriages can operate all year round. In addition, restrictions on requests outside of Central Park would be removed. The bill would allow for expanded staging, pick-up and drop off areas, including Central Park South, Times Square and other tourist areas such as the Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller Center and the Theater District. Finally, my bill requires workers to receive a common wage set by the city inspector, which, combined with longer working hours, will provide increased income, benefits and protection for all drivers.
Of course, the safety of animals and New Yorkers is paramount. Horses have a highly developed flying drive. Veterinarian Dr Jim Keen said, “In my experience, most bad outcomes for animals happen when there is a mismatch between the wildlife, biology, and behavioral and health needs of the animal and the environment in which we place those animals.” The health and welfare problems of harness horses are inescapable in an urban environment as large and congested as New York.
Despite claims that these horses are well cared for, the carriage owners take disgraced vet Dr. Camilo Sierra employed to research carriage horses. Sierra’s list of violations includes falsifying health reports and improperly drugging horses. The Transport Workers Union, which represents horse-drawn carriage drivers, reported that Luciana was under investigation by Sierra, although his license had been suspended by the state and he has been sanctioned at least seven times.
A horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park may seem like a fairy tale. But for the animals involved, it’s an inescapable nightmare. The plight of the horses is not worth romance in this modern age just because we’ve been doing it for centuries.
We need new ideas to get tourists back to our city. If we implement a transition to horseless electric carriages, we would be the first city in the US to do so, creating a unique tourist attraction here in New York. We can end animal cruelty and public safety hazards while increasing the incomes of coach drivers. I urge my colleagues and all New Yorkers to support this bill.
Holden represents Maspeth, Glendale, Middle Village and other Queens neighborhoods on the City Council.