Carriage Horses Under Scrutiny in the Big Apple

What could be more romantic than a carriage ride through Central Park? The colorful carriages that help make Manhattan and its park special are threatened with extinction if Senator Tony Avella of Queens gets his way. According to a report by Patricia Saffran in the June 2011 "Horse Directory", Avella is proposing a bill that would declare them illegal.

By Dr. Gregory Beroza & Paula Rodenas

Republished from

What could be more romantic than a carriage ride through Central Park? The colorful carriages that help make Manhattan and its park special are threatened with extinction if Senator Tony Avella of Queens gets his way. According to a report by Patricia Saffran in the June 2011 “Horse Directory”, Avella is proposing a bill that would declare them illegal.

During recent demonstrations, Avella and animal rights groups claimed that the horses are not humanely treated and expressed safety concerns, even though accident rates have been low. Meanwhile, pro-carriage citizens point to the close connection between the horses and their drivers, and assert that the horses are well cared for and appear to be content and quiet in the heart of the city.

On April 15, 2011 it was announced that the New York City Council voted on measures to form a “benefits package” for the horses. This package includes five weeks off a year, a lower retirement age, the requirement of waterproof blankets in wet weather and heavy blankets in cold weather, larger stalls, reflective material and emergency brakes for the vehicles; and additional training and mandatory licensing for all new drivers. In 2006 it was estimated that there are more than 200 horses and approximately 350 drivers on the city streets. The horses are housed in five different locations.

Carriage horses are removed from the streets when the temperature rises above 90 degrees in summer and drops below 18 degrees in winter. The A.S.P.C.A. provides a water truck for the hot weather and a horse ambulance if needed. Carriage operations may be suspended during inclement weather, such as high winds, tornado watches, thunderstorms, icy roads and snowfall.

Ironically, the proposed Bill (8.5013A/7748) to eliminate carriages supports the return of horseback riding in Central Park, which has been non-existent since the closing of the Claremont Riding Academy in 2007. Despite overwhelming changes in the 20th and 21st centuries, horses have been an important element of the New York City scene since the early 20th century, when their transportation role was replaced by the automobile and they became part of the leisure world. In fact, the Big Apple got its nickname from the apples that were fed to horses on the streets in days of yore.

Jerry Trapani, President of the Paumanok Driving Club on Long Island and a respected professional farrier, said, “The horses and carriages are an important part of the tourist trade in New York City. They are well cared for in all aspects of shoeing, health, feeding, housing and rest periods. The largest danger to the horses is unsafe car drivers. Most accidents are caused by reckless drivers hitting a carriage and scaring the horses. The [carriage] drivers are trained, and they care about their horses welfare. The life of a carriage horse in New York City is much better than in most other cities, and definitely better than some of their counterparts on many farms.”

A carriage was struck by a taxi on July 25th, injuring three tourists and the driver, Salvatore Terranova, 70, who was hospitalized in critical condition with a head injury. The horse sustained cuts to its body. This accident called further attention to the carriage horse issue. Mayor Michael Bloomberg could not be reached for comment.

The Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (A.S.P.C.A.) is responsible for the welfare of animals, and its role with regard to horses is complex. A spokesperson explained that the A.S.P.C.A.s Humane Law Enforcement department is composed of 17 New York State peace officers, who are authorized to enforce state and city animal cruelty laws.

The cruelty laws are written by the Agriculture and Markets Department, which deals with misdemeanor and felony animal cruelty and laws pertaining to the transportation of horses. Administrative code regulations pertaining to rental horses, and specifically to carriage horses, are found in the following 3 areas: Department of Health, Department of Consumer Affairs and Department of Transportation.

The NYC-DOHMH (Department of Health and Mental Hygiene}, which has a veterinary service within, regulates horses in the five boroughs. Veterinary Services licenses rental horses and requires that a private veterinarian completes a licensing form stating that the horse is sound and suitable for work. Consumer Affairs licenses the carriages and their drivers. There are only 68 medallions available, which can be traded or sold, but no new ones are issued.

The carriages are inspected, and hearings are held for violations, such as no lights on the carriage and overloading it with too many passengers. Complaints are investigated. Working a horse with an obvious injury would not only violate city rules, but would be considered animal cruelty. Carriage drivers are trained and undergo an exam and an apprenticeship under the sponsorship of a licensed driver.

Although the A.S.P.C.A. is nowadays associated primarily with the concerns of dogs and cats, it began with those of horses. In 1863 an American, Henry Bergh, was working as secretary of the American Legation in St. Petersburg, Russia when he saw a carriage driver viciously beating his own horse. When Bergh tried to stop him, the man shouted angrily, “Its my horse. I can do as I wish with it!”

Bergh began to think about the rights of helpless animals, and when he returned to New York, he waged a one-man battle against cruelty. At first he was labeled “the great meddler,” but he enlisted support and by 1866 his actions led to the formation of the nations first anti-cruelty law and the foundation of the A.S.P.C.A.

The horses relationship with humans differs from that of household pets. The horse has been a valuable working animal since man first realized, thousands of years ago, that it could be more than just a good meal. Horses were partners in warfare, exploration and transportation, and in the age of mechanization they became partners in sport. The horse is a working partner, whether he is pulling a carriage, herding cattle or jumping obstacles.

Because they are expensive to maintain, most horses must earn their keep. Activist extremists have only an idealistic vision of horses running free in large grass covered pastures, shoeless, unencumbered by saddles, bridles and harnesses; but that is impractical in view of the horses history and development as a domesticated animal.

“The horse has been domesticated for over 5,000 years,” said Linda Kramer, President of the Carriage Operators of North America. “The horses in Central Park are probably more cared for than any other horses in the world.” Hundreds of American cities have carriage horses; there are more than 1,000 carriage companies; and many cities around the world offer commercial carriage rides, such as London, Paris and Seville, to name a few.

The Carriage Operators of North America (CONA) belongs to both the Animal Welfare Council and the American Horse Council, which recognizes the carriage industry as a place for otherwise unwanted horses. Ms. Kramer pointed out that many carriage horses are sturdy draft breeds or draft crosses, weighing 1,600 to 2,200 pounds; and others are often retired standardbred ex-race horses.

Carriage horses are mainly driven at the walk, which does not stress the joints. They can often work soundly into their teens or early twenties. It is not logical for a carriage owner to mistreat his horse, because that horse represents his livelihood, says Kramer, who has 23 horses in Philadelphia. She said she would not hesitate to stable any of them in New York. She also noted that after the closing of Claremont, New York Citys last remaining riding academy, Chateau (carriage) Stable, assumed the responsibility of Claremonts handicapped riding program.

According to Anita Gerami, whose family has owned Chateau Stable for over 40 years, the equestrian program for the disabled is held on Saturdays and will be expanded to four times a week. “We are very aware of (Senator) Avella looking to ban the horses and carriages, along with other political people who tried to do the same,” she said. “As far as I am aware, nobody has been cited or convicted of animal cruelty (owner or driver), though this business is regularly accused of such by our opponents.

All of the stables have 24-hour stable staff and sprinkler systems. In our stable we have automatic waterers, skylights, fans, a certified dental tech on call and two vets on call. We own a farm in Pennsylvania, where we transport our horses back and forth. Its very heartbreaking to dedicate your life like my family and myself have; and then to be labeled as an abusive business because we choose and use our horses as our income.”

One of Senator Avellas proposals involves replacing carriages with antique-style electric cars. “I dont think he will be successful,” said Linda Kramer. “He failed at a city level [to eliminate horses and carriages] and now he is trying to do it on a state level.”

The A.S.P.C.A. supports the phasing out of carriage horses, explained Dr. Pamela Corey, Director of Equine Veterinary Services for that organization, because it would give the horses a better life. Carriage drivers would be offered a new vocation. As the primary enforcer of New York Citys carriage horse laws, with firsthand knowledge of ongoing problems and violations, the A.S.P.C.A. concluded that it can no longer support the status quo.

New Yorkers for Clean, Livable & Safe Streets (NY-CLASS), an organization dedicated to improving the citys quality of life through education and advocacy, believes that viable alternatives to carriage horses will relieve the city government of its financial burden and avoid the safety and quality issues caused by the horse carriages.

“As an equine veterinarian, I am concerned about the health, welfare and safety of all working horses,” said Dr. Pamela Corey. “I’m naturally troubled by abusive training and working practices and issues of neglect or substandard care. The carriage horses in New York City work in extreme conditions, and I believe the industry requires constant monitoring to ensure their compliance with city regulations. I also believe the regulations could be strengthened to benefit the horses (even though they are some of the strictest in the nation). The health concerns that I have for this particular group of urban horses relate to their lack of access to emergency veterinary care and the general state of their hoof and farrier care. I also feel that some individual horses fare better than others with the lack of daily access to grass pasture and turnout, in terms of their nutrition and behavioral needs.”

What will become of the horses if carriages are eliminated? The state senate bill proposes that the horses be sold or donated and cared for humanely for the rest of their lives and that the information about their disposal be forwarded within five days of such sale or donation. But since most of the horses are the personal property of their individual owners (and some are already living on farms), this may be difficult to enforce.

Of even greater concern is the fact that most of the present equine retirement facilities are already over-subscribed and under-funded; meaning that premature euthanasia or slaughter are looming new problems. The majority of carriage horse owners and drivers are decent, hard working, horse loving caregivers. As in any industry, there are only a few bad apples; however, should that mean the end of an otherwise beneficial industry. Furthermore, what are to eventually become of other presently acceptable equestrian activities in New York and other cities?

It seems that the most rational focus of this debate should be to best supervise and regulate any and all humane equestrian use issues; rather than to ban entire industries, complete with all the individuals financially and emotionally tied into these well recognized forms of equine use. Perhaps government regulators are attempting to take too strong a role in limiting individual liberties! Work horses help build the Big Apple and now they may be forced to leave it.

Adding individuals knowledgeable about the healthcare and well-being of horses to a volunteer civilian review board composed of individuals without any financial conflicts of interest in New York Citys carriage horse matter might be a good start. Their goal would be to help government officials in best regulating, humanely maintaining and protecting the public interests in the proper servicing of the New York City equine livery system.

The carriage horse issue is clearly a controversial double-edged sword with a multitude of industry-wide repercussions which impact New York City ambiance and its tourism. Its outcome will ultimately affect the face of the city and the fate of its horses in the new millennium. In similar terms, how would a safer Times Square look without all those distracting and potentially dangerous lights look?

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