Take in a Broadway show. Gaze upon the city from atop the Empire State Building. Cuddle up with a significant other for a romantic ride through Central Park in a horse-drawn carriage. Ask any would-be New York tourist to list his or her top-three Big Apple must-dos and, chances are, you’d get some version of this trifecta. But opportunities for checking off that last one could be nearing an end.
Last week, animal rights activists wanting to end the decades-long tradition of horse-drawn carriages received good news when Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor, told reporters “the biggest, densest urban area in North America…is not a place for horses. They are not meant to be in traffic jams.”
Though current mayor Michael Bloomberg is a supporter of the carriages, telling The New York Times in 2011 “tourists love them, and we’ve used them from time immemorial to pull things,” De Blasio’s opponent, Republican Joe Lhota, also favors a ban.
Animal rights groups want to replace the hoof-powered carriages with eight-seat, electric-powered replicas of antique cars, according to Reuters.
Christina Hansen, a driver who has become the unofficial spokesperson of New York’s horse carriage interests, says the activists are just plain wrong. "It's all a bunch of hysteria," said Hansen. “They project their own emotions onto horses.”
New York treats its horses relatively well. Each year, the 216 equines in the city’s licensed carriage-horse industry get three weeks off to rest and relax at a farm in upstate New York. When they’re on the job, the horses are not permitted to work longer than nine hours per day. And in addition to twice-yearly check-ups from veterinarians, city inspectors visit the horses’ stables regularly. That’s a better deal than some people in New York get.
Activist Allie Feldman told Reuters the electric buggies are a fair compromise that the city’s next mayor ought to seriously consider. "It retains the romantic, classic, nostalgic feel that you would get in a horse-drawn carriage, only it doesn't have the smell, it doesn't have the cruelty and it's much more safe," she said.
Hansen felt otherwise. "People come to us for the clip-clop,” she said. “Nobody wants to pet a fender."