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The controversial horse-drawn carriage trade in New York City continues to be the subject of debate and has become an issue in the mayoral contest, which will be decided in November.

Since 2006, every online poll has shown between 75 and 80% of respondents favor a ban of this inhumane and unsafe business.  New Yorkers and tourists alike are saying “Enough!” It is the politicians who are holding things up.

Still misinformation abounds and, without challenge, becomes the accepted view.

MYTHS:  After the death of Charlie, a young carriage horse who dropped dead on NYC’s streets in October 2011, there were renewed cries from the public to shut down the carriage business.  Mayor Bloomberg, a big supporter of the trade, responded,  “Most of them [the horses] probably wouldn’t be alive if they didn’t have a job.”   And people believed it – that if the horses did not have a job, they would be slaughtered and continuing the carriage trade prevented this from happening.

Another accepted and unchallenged opinion from a New York Times article, dated December 7, 2011 was a quote by Dr. Nena Winand,   a NY Veterinarian and member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, who said, “If we banned the carriage horse industry tomorrow, they would go straight to slaughter. There is no big field out there and no one to pay the bills.”

So we apparently have to save the carriage horse owners from themselves since it is they who bring the horses to auction where they can be bought for slaughter.  The horses do not walk there on their own volition.

Feeding right into this is another myth that the media has bought into  – a “retirement home”  for the NYC carriage horses. They promote this nice fairy tale without asking the necessary questions – such as  – how many NYC carriage horses have you taken? how many can your farm hold?; will you force them to work?; do you take every horse whose license is not renewed?  If not, what happens to them?

Maybe a handful are retired each year and get good homes.  But a retirement home for all could not be further from the truth.

NEW STUDY:  A new study conducted by the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages shows that over the past eight years, there was a turnover of at least 529 carriage horses who did not have their license renewed by the NYC Department of Health (DoH), the agency charged with oversight of these animals.  The only reason horses come off the registry is when they are sold or died.

Some 200 horses are registered with the DoH annually.  For 529 to have no accountability is deeply disturbing.   This averages out to 71 horses a year over 7 ½ years.

We are aware that some horses did find homes, some were rescued and some died but it is simply not feasible that this many horses were retired to good homes, as the carriage trade would have you believe.

I suspect that neither Bloomberg, nor Winand are aware of the very high turnover of horses in the NYC carriage trade.  – Perhaps they, like many others, just assume the same horses work over and over and over again – like a billboard – never changing – or they do not give it a second thought.

The NYC Administrative Code – Section 17-329 does not require the names of buyers if the horse is sold outside New York City as most are and the DoH does not maintain documents or a database containing a list of horses who are no longer in the system.

HORSE AUCTIONS  – Not all horses are as fortunate as one named Billy, a former NYC carriage horse. After being sold to a kill buyer at New Holland in Pennsylvania, he was rescued/repurchased by the Coalition in 2010 and is now living out his golden years in peace—appropriately renamed Bobby ll Freedom—at Equine Advocates Sanctuary in Chatham, NY.

This was the e-mail I saw on Friday morning June 25th.  We immediately took action.

Thursday June 24, 2010 – 6:17pm

“Can you guys offer any info or know anyone who would like to save this gentle gelding from slaughter?  We only have til Sat 6 p.m. to find a secure home.  
6-22-12 – Bay gelding ex carriage horse has license plate on front left hoof quiet, gentle broke to ride/drive

$600.00 and fees $100 for coggins, $25 adoption fee, etc. 

It is very possible a horse could go either directly or indirectly to the auctions, which are frequented by kill buyers who supply slaughter houses.  The Equine Welfare Alliance reports that 176,223 US horses were sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico in 2012 where their meat was processed to be sent overseas for human consumption.

A BILL THAT COULD HAVE HELPED:  In 2011, the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages asked Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito to sponsor a bill, Intro 670, that would require that carriage horse owners abide by certain rules when selling their horses – i.e. to be accountable for the horses’ fate.  The owner would be required to sell or Donate his or her horse to a private individual or sanctuary with a contractual agreement that the animal would be kept as a companion animal, not be sold or employed in another carriage business.  The horses could not be sold at auction.  The  DoH  would require complete records.  The press conference for the proposed legislation was canceled the night before by Speaker Christine Quinn and the bill subsequently died.   Quinn has been a staunch supporter of the carriage trade and has ultimate power in the City Council.  Bills do not go anywhere without her Support.

Since that time, more than 116 horses – who would have been protected had it passed – have fallen off the rolls to uncertain fate.

So where do we go from here?  If the powers that be do not see fit to do anything about shutting down this inhumane and unsafe business, at least they should acknowledge and do something about all the horses who get used up.   But will they?  Do they care enough about these horses or will they continue to delude themselves into thinking it is a viable tourist attraction.

The status quo can continue to the tune of 71 horses falling off the DoH horse registry each year.  It all depends on who becomes NYC’s next mayor.  Someone compassionate and smart?  – or not.

In the meantime, we ask the City Council to revive Intro 670 and get it passed into law.

The 21-page Coalition report and the original Department of Health horse lists can be accessed on this page.

  • We also ask that you Support the Avella/Rosenthal bill in the NYS legislature that would prohibit the use of horse-drawn carriages in NYC.  Please visit our web site for more information.
  • Contact your Council Member to ask that they resurrect Intro 670 bill and pass it.
  • Support Bill deBlasio for Mayor in the Democratic primary in September 2013.  Currently, the NYC Public Advocate, he is smart and compassionate and favors an immediate ban on the carriage trade but will work on a reasonable phase-out not dependent on the electric car substitute, which is too risky, costly and unrealistic.

Photo Credit: Mickey Z