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Seek common ground on Central Park carriages


As one who’s been involved with the horse-drawn carriage issue since the 1990s, I was very pleased to see Ron Isaac's commentary "The Neighs Have it" about the current controversy regarding the carriages.  

Animal advocates have been unsuccessfully advocating for a ban of horse-drawn carriages for years. But most City Council members don’t want to rock the boat, so the horses continue to suffer. 

In 2019, I traveled with Susan Wagner, the president of Equine Advocates, to Guadalajara, Mexico to see their successful electric horseless carriages. Drivers and activists worked together to bring about a new lucrative business, and the horses were placed in forever homes. 

Upon returning from Guadalajara, we formed the Committee for Compassionate & Responsible Tourism, hoping to do the same thing in New York City.  

We recognized that it was crucial to first work with the union and owners, and although we tried, that did not happen. Then Council Member Robert Holden introduced his bill without consulting the stakeholders or accepting my offer of input. That bill is fraught with problems and is a recipe for failure.

The main issue with the bill is that it does not address the fate of the horses. There is a turnover of 60-70 horses yearly in this business. From 2005 through 2013, I gathered horse registry lists from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. My research uncovered that 529 horses disappeared from the DOH registry during that time. Although the industry likes to threaten that the horses will go to slaughter if they stopped using them, it’s in fact the owners who take them there. 

An owner will get rid of a horse who is too old, too tired or too nervous. Sometimes the horse will go directly to auction, but most often, they evade notice by bringing the horse to an Amish farm where he might stay a month or more, and then be taken to auction by the farmer and not by the original horse owner. The horse may be purchased by a well-meaning person or by a buyer who has contracts with slaughter facilities in Canada or Mexico. 

 In 2010, I was notified about a carriage horse who was one day away from being returned to the kill pen at New Holland’s livestock auction. We worked quickly to rescue him, and he ended up at Equine Advocates sanctuary in Chatham, in Columbia County.  Bobby II Freedom, much beloved, lived many enjoyable years there and died this past June just a few days before his 32nd birthday. 

The Holden bill requires owners to certify that they will not bring the horse to slaughter, but because of the way the process works, such a certification is meaningless. 

Because the horses are privately owned, it would be necessary to have an agreement with the owners to sell their horses, and sanctuaries ready to accept them. It should not be done the way it was in Chicago or Montreal, where the carriage business was stopped with no provisions for the horses. That was never our plan, and we would not support it. 

The second problem with the bill is that it requires non-owners to be paid prevailing wages. This is not the way the drivers traditionally work and should have been discussed with the owners.  

TWU Local 100 represents both owners — of which there are at least 68 and probably more since the businesses are single proprietorships, partnerships, and LLCs — and non-owners, all of whom may drive the carriages. Their income is what they take in for the cost of a ride. The non-owners give the owner a percentage of their intake.  

Isaac talks about a "generous benefit package" — those are nonexistent. In a normal business, the union negotiates with the owners for employee benefits. But neither the owners nor the non-owners are city employees. Not everyone is a union member, and the dues presumably go to the union for their services. 

In Guadalajara the drivers all say they are making more money without the horses. Weather is not an issue. Consider that approximately 360 work hours have been lost this year because of weather conditions that prohibited the horses from working. With electric carriages, the drivers would not be encumbered by the weather or the costs of food, veterinary care and boarding expenses for the horses. They would make a better income and the TWU could increase union membership and expand the business.  

We continue to suggest a pilot program with input from the union and owners. 

The issue of urban carriage horses will not disappear. But the world continues to move away from an ethic that says it’s acceptable to exploit animals for our convenience.  

If we approach each other with mutual respect, this can be a win-win for the drivers/owners, animal advocates and horses.

Elizabeth Forel is co-founder of the Committee for Compassionate & Responsible Tourism and the president of the Coalition for NYC Animals, Inc.


9 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • nyrker

    Please free these animals. Use motorized vehicles.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2022 Report this

  • Barbara

    The world is changing and no longer do people find it acceptable to use animals in this manner. The NYC carriage horse drivers are being handed an opportunity to keep their business going with electric carriages. Other cities have simply shut them down.

    Thursday, September 29, 2022 Report this

  • NomadicCat

    Ms Forel, Brings up some very interesting points here.

    "360 work hours have been lost this year because of weather conditions" In New York City where inclement weather is a reality, the drivers are at significant financial disadvantage relying on antiquated horse drawn carriages.

    Also, I was not aware of the loophole in the bill where the horses are simply passed off to a middleman (the Amish) only to be ultimately killed after a slaughterhouse auction.

    Obviously, this industry needs to evolve and adapt like it did Guadalajara.

    Friday, September 30, 2022 Report this

  • Podeva2468

    The carriage horses suffer--that is old news. The efforts to allay their suffering thus far really don't help much: they continue to be hurt during bad weather, bad traffic, and when they spook, inside or outside of Central Park.

    We all know that the best way to make progress is to bring all sides together to resolve issues. Let's not just address this issue by creating bills without consulting industry experts, drivers and owners: everyone should sit down together to come up with acceptable compromise that will be a good solution for the horses, the drivers, the tourists, and the City.

    Thank you, Ms. Forel, for sharing your insights.

    Friday, September 30, 2022 Report this

  • smr413

    Horse-drawn carriages are a 19th-century anachronism whose time has gone. Switching to electric horseless carriages is obviously a no-brainer for the reason of more profitability with no expense outlay for upkeep of the horses and no work time lost due to weather limitations.. However, the current proposed legislation is shown to have major flaws. For one instance, what's the point of a law that would still allow the horses to be slaughtered due to no provision for their welfare? To get this close to a ban on this throwback to a distant century and not get it done right would be a colossal, and tragic, waste of effort. After decades of activivism on this issue, let's fix the flaws regarding the disposition of the horses, get input from the union, the owners and the drivers and geet this done.

    Friday, September 30, 2022 Report this

  • catlady

    A very well-informed article. It's too bad former Mayor DeBlasio and others have not listened to seasoned activists such as Ms. Forel who actually know what they're talking about. And as to weather, as I write this comment New York City is experiencing the effects of Hurricane Ian, yet the carriage horses are allowed to be out in this inclement weather? This is a recurring issue; I live near the stables on the far west side of Manhattan. I have seen horses spooked by intense winds - in one instance the driver was barely able to control the horse which was about to run a red light. The idea to bring all sides together is what is sorely needed. The public is less in favor of the continuation with the carriage horses. Many people lose their jobs because times change; here is a proposal to keep jobs in an industry that people have been fighting to shut down for decades. How great is that.

    Saturday, October 1, 2022 Report this

  • CHF2022

    That there are serious problems with the operation of horse-drawn carriages on 21st-century city streets is irrefutable. I agree with Ms. Forel - let's advance to an inclusive conversation involving all the stakeholders. This industry has to evolve, animal welfare issues must be addressed, and the City can help broker a compromise. Electric carriages are a win-win solution, which can satisfy tourists' demands for both an historical experience and a cruelty-free activity, increase carriage companies' profits, and allow for the retirement of the carriage horses to sanctuary. We all understand the problem. It's now time to focus on the solution - and get it done.

    Saturday, October 1, 2022 Report this

  • eaharley

    Great news that a bill has been introduced. That's a whole lot more than Charleston South Carolina! We can only hope that Charleston's Mayor and city council will be embarrassed that they do not have the courage to even entertain ending the cruelty and providing a more humane alternative for the horses and benefits for owners and employees.

    Saturday, October 1, 2022 Report this

  • VeronicaV

    Forget 'common ground'. When it comes to animal's lives, I do not want to compromise, I want their well being to come first. I have written letters, sent emails, made phone calls, and Tweeted, to the NY Speaker, to the Mayor, to the Governor, and to the D.A. No one in NY cares about these horses, I've yet to receive one response. They are ignoring what the people want; there have been rallies and petitions to end carriage rides but again, they're just not listening.

    Saturday, October 1, 2022 Report this