New York City will retire 145 Central Park carriage horses, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced January 17, 2016, reducing the number to 75 horse-drawn carriages. The decision comes two years after the Mayor initially said he would ban the forced labor of horses on New York City’s streets on day one of his administration. The decision is being called a compromise between animal rights advocates and industry union leaders.
In addition to retiring the majority of the equestrian fleet, the remaining horses will also receive new stables within Central Park, which is an improvement from the warehouse structure they have been living in small, cramped stables in Hell’s Kitchen, located in midtown Manhattan. The deal requires that a new stable, large enough to house 75 horses at a time, to be built by Oct. 1, 2018.
The horses will also no longer be ridden in traffic on the city’s busy streets, where dozens have fallen victim to traffic accidents and are at high risk for injury. The mayor said that their working hours will also be reduced as well – the horses currently pull between 1,200 and 1,800 pounds for nine hours a day, seven days a week on the hard pavement of the city streets in all weather conditions.
On top of the physical strains they are faced with as carriage horses, many of the Central Park horses have long been overworked and abused before even arriving in New York City during former lives as buggy carriers or on the race tracks. In an autobiography, one horse trainer for the city’s fleet admitted to “breaking” the horses with abuse so that they would obey their handlers.
While the changes are a step in the right direction, Elizabeth Forel, of The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, said that the deal barely scratches the surface when it comes to protecting New York City’s horses.
“The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages is opposed to the new Mayor deBlasio deal, which preserves the carriage trade at the expense of the horses and smells like a convenient real estate deal to us,” she stated in an email. “Street traffic was never the sole reason we advocated for a ban. There are many other reasons including the sensitive, nervous nature of the horses; the very high turnover, which leads us to believe many of the unwanted go to the kill auctions, and punishing working conditions. Putting the stables in Central Park, which may be illegal, is not going to relieve this and may just exacerbate it because all the abuses will now be within the park and not so noticeable.”
Little is known about where the 145 horses will be retired, which is concerning since it’s horses deemed “unfit” for work have been sold at auction to slaughter houses. “The way the law is written, there is no protection for horses sold outside NYC, as most are. My research has consistently showed that between 60-70 horses fall off the Department of Health rolls annually,” Forel said.
While this is a step in the right direction for the welfare of New York City’s horses, the real power to end abuses in New York City’s horse-drawn carriage industry is in the hands of the public. Carriage drivers are motivated by their own profits to continue working the horses. Without a demand for such rides, the industry cannot continue. To help end the suffering of these animals, you can help by boycotting the rides. Share this post to magnify your impact and urge Mayor de Blasio to make good on his promise to end this cruel tradition.
Lead image source: The Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages