A Halt to The NYC Horse Carriage Industry: Don’t Be Taken For a Ride

Imagine you are trotting through Central Park on an elegant carriage ride through Manhattan. You are donned in your finest petticoat enjoying the ride. Sounds like a paradise, right? Well, there is trouble in paradise.

The horse-drawn carriage industry is a controversial issue right now in New York City, pitting drivers against animal rights activists. While drivers and other proponents of the industry feel that horse carriages must remain in New York to preserve drivers’ jobs and livelihoods, animal advocacy groups want them banned, asserting that the horses are exploited and abused. In a response to lobbying, recently-elected Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would make good on his campaign promise to enact a ban on horse-drawn carriages.

At stake are jobs, tourism income and what carriage supporters say is a special tradition in the city. Proponents of horse-drawn carriages’ main argument is to protect the livelihood of more than 150 drivers of 68 carriages. In addition, they feel that tourists pay to see the horse, which is “the star” of the operation.

Peter Muller, the New York State director of animal advocacy group which aims to give animals a political voice, The League of Humane Voters (LOHV), believes that these carriage drivers must have other skills to pursue other jobs in tourism. Edita Birnkrant, the New York director of Friends of Animals, has been working on the ban of horse-drawn carriages in New York since the onset of the entire banning campaign in late 2005. Similarly to Muller, Birnkrant finds herself dumbfounded by carriage proponents’ argument that banning carriages would destroy drivers’ livelihoods.

“Throughout history when a society did not find a need for a certain industry, that industry would simply shut down,” Birnkrant said.

While there is little common ground between advocates of horse carriages and their opponents, there seems to be skepticism from both sides about the alternative being presented. The pro-ban group, New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) proposed a horseless alternative – a fully electric vintage-replica vehicle. The proposal, which is backed by Councilwoman Mark-Viverito, even has animal activists concerned. Skeptics feel that motorized horse carriages may be a more efficient, cheaper alternative to electric, while many pro-ban groups feel that this proposal will not expedite their campaign and likely will not pass federal highway safety requirements.

Many business-driven drivers believe that the carriages’ main tourist appeal lies in the idea of being with the horse itself. Thus, they are not willing to make the switch, entering an uncertain and likely less profitable industry.

While the ban would force the drivers out of work, the electric car plan would guarantee them jobs if they were willing, as their medallions would transfer over, according to media reports.

“Drivers don’t realize how fortunate they are to be offered a replacement industry,” Birnkrant said. “However, industries were never solely shut down because of animal activists before, so the backlash from drivers and pro-carriage people is inevitable.”

Another claim that many drivers assert to oppose the ban is that their horses are treated well, as the industry is highly regulated and each horse is granted a “five week’s vacation” per year.

However, the 220 carriage horses in New York City routinely work at least nine hours a day, seven days a week pulling a vehicle that weighs upwards of hundreds of pounds on hard pavement according to the NYCLASS website. Many return from their vacation underweight and exhausted, NYCLASS asserts. They breathe in exhaust from buses, cars and taxis.

According to the Carriage Horse Committee, horses are not allowed to work in temperatures below 18 degrees and above 90, but this fails to factor in wind chill, humidity and pavement temperature according to media sources. Moreover, since this regulation was not strictly enforced, according to animal rights groups, The New York Post reported that NYPD decided to take over the enforcement of regulations of horse carriages.

While officers are working to enforce these rules, they are still trying to work out how to orchestrate enforcing these rules that specifically ban the operation of horse carriages in extreme weather according to the New York Post.

The issue of horse carriage regulation does not just cover horses’ well being during their working hours. Rather, the matter of safety and regulation in the stables is a much-debated argument between advocates of the ban and drivers alike.

According to horse carriage supporters, each of the four stables is highly regulated with amenities such as nearby veterinarians, automated “drippers” feeding the horses water, roomy stalls and a sprinkler system for fire safety. In addition, they are open to inspection 365 days a year as reported by CNN.

According to Birnkrant, horse carriage supporters are the “ones with blinders on.” While stables are the only factor that drivers can control, they use this in their platform, since they can not control traffic, which has amounted in more than 20 accidents from horses becoming spooked in the past few years. Birnkrant, who visited the same Clinton Stables on W. 52nd  St. that drivers along with their celebrity endorser, Liam Neeson praised, said that regardless of stables adhering to regulations, they are far too small and perilous. According to Birnkrant, while the Clinton Stables are the only ones mentioned in the media and are said to be the best-kept stables, they do not provide sufficient space for horse turnout. Turnout includes interacting with fellow horses and having the freedom to move about, as horses are accustomed to this in pastures.

Ultimately, life is bleak for carriage horses, as many of these horses come from Amish farms and racetracks and inflicted with preexisting joint injuries, according to Holly Cheever, the vice president of the New York Humane Association. Even when they are too old to work, they are usually unable to retire in a pasture, according to Birnkrant. Rather, they are shipped off to killer-buyer auctions in New Holland Pennsylvania where they are sold to Canada to be slaughtered for their meat, according to The Humane Society.  Because the horse carriage industry does not have to keep records of the horses, drivers often file off the required four-digit number below a horse’s hoof, to perform this illegal meat-trade, according to Birnkrant.

While animal rights activists are hopeful that de Blasio will pass the bill to ban horse-drawn carriages, they remain eager. It is important to note that the bill must be passed through city council, which takes time. While there is no definitive timeline of when the bill will be passed, Muller and Birnkrant believe that it will happen by the start of 2015 at the latest. If enacted, the law will retire all working horses to pastures.


How You Can Become An Advocate of the Ban:

Get Involved: New York City Residents can contact the council member of their districts by writing hand-written letters or leaving voicemails. When calling, Birnkrant says it is important to say that you are a concerned constituent. For those who do not live in Manhattan, you can call the mayor directly and sign petitions that advocate for the ban of horse-drawn carriages.

On a local levelThe Animal Rights Association (ARA) meets on Thursdays from 6-7:00 p.m. in The Student Union Room 407.

“I definitely plan on talking more about horse-drawn carriages in the club, as its an issue that’s often overlooked and the city is no environment for fearful horses,” Jayne Costello, ARA’s president, said.

Click Here to see animal activism group, Animals’ Angels Investigation of the interior of the West Side Livery stable.

Click Here to read the story of a former NYC working horse’s retirement into a sanctuary.


Update: The full-size Horseless Carriage prototype was unveiled April 17, 2014 by NYCLASS in New York City, according to news reports.


HorseCarriageInfographic title=




Danielle Plotkin

24 thoughts on “A Halt to The NYC Horse Carriage Industry: Don’t Be Taken For a Ride

  1. Your article began “Imagine…” and that is what you did! Look up the records on the people you cited by name. They do NOT have any clue what they are talking about. they, like you, “imagine” the life of the horse. They do not LIVE it, as the drivers do, day after day. What s wrong with working for a living? The horses are all healthy. They are curious. That does not happen when a horse is sick or abused. If you live in NYC, you also breathe in the “toxic fumes”. In fact, Air quality is better in NYC than in the country” according to recent scientific (not imagined) studies. I have a question about the statement: Just where do you think the horses took their vacations? That’s right – “in the country- PA, NY state where the air is supposedly cleaner and they have pasture to run in. BTW- my own horses spend about 3 minutes a day “running” The rest of the time they stand around- just like the carriage horses do at the southern end of Central Park As a Reporter, you should do some real research for yourself. Don’t just repeat imagined statistics or imagined “facts”. Have you visited the stables? Have you actually “tracked” which horses are “working” 9 hours a day 7 days a week”, as you reported? As you said, each horse has a unique “license number” on it’s hoof, so it would be easy to do your own research. I think you will come to very different conclusion if you research the story and don’t just repeat what you hear.

  2. sorry to tell you that you’re perpetuating this popular drama for no good reason. The horses are healthy, content and comfortable. The stables are beautiful and friendly. This is no big deal and there’s really nothing wrong here. It’s none of your business, or mine, for that matter. There’s no problem with the Carriage Horses. Look elsewhere!

  3. It’s interesting, but not surprising that no author takes responsibility for this article. To start, whoever wrote this needs to take an Enlish class. “You are donned in your finest petticoat”?! No. It would be “You have donned your finest” etc. The horses were “inflicted” with joint injuries? Sigh. It’s AFFLICTED — oh, except that they are not. This writer is no better with research than he or she is with English. This article completely misses the point of why people support the carriage horse owners — they LOVE these horses. The horses are owned by the drivers. This is a human/animal partnership. When choosing a new carriage horse, a driver looks for a horse that enjoys interacting with people. To dump such a horse in a lonely “horse sanctuary”, away from the crowds he loves would be a cruel thing to do. That is the main problem with this article. The dozens of inaccuracies would take pages to correct. For example, the remark about 20 horses being killed in the last few years. Where? Not in New York. The accurate number is THREE deaths in THIRTY years. For those who want to know facts about this issue, I recommend the facebook pages Carriage Horse Facts or The Famous Horse Drawn Carriages of Central Park.

  4. Oh, the lies. The horses have an official retirement venue that they are able to go to when their time in the city is done. No driver has ever sent a horse to slaughter.
    There are no electric cars, this is just a ploy to make the activists seem like they are going to do good by the drivers…..there will never be an actual car.
    Yes, the horses pull carriages on hard pavement, the only pavement I know of is hard which makes it easier for the carriages to roll. The carriages are also equipped with rubber rimmed wheel and roller bearings so that even a grown man can take a carriage full of people for a ride around, check out this video http://youtu.be/uQHesvabpl4
    Horses interact with other horses on a daily basis, while in harness or in the stables. The stalls are open on 3 or 4 sides so the horse can see and touch his/her neighbor. Pasture is mainly used for exercise and since the carriage horses get exercise daily it is not necessary though the horses do get a mandatory 5 weeks vacation on one of the farms. The vast majority of horses in pasture are not running and frolicking about (as the RARA want you to believe)but are standing around dropping manure.
    I dare the cowardly author of this elementary piece to provide proof, solid proof that one of the drivers him or herself sent a carriage horse to the auction (horses do not go directly to slaughter as the author seems to think, they go through an auction first)
    Your lies are not fooling anyone anymore, the public is starting to do their research first and are realizing that this is nothing more than a land grab. It is about valuable real estate that the stables are on, it is not about the horses and never was. The mayor was bought and paid for by the radical activists and a real estate mogul.

  5. There is nothing rebellious about this article, the writer parrots the propaganda of the anti carriage folks as if it were truth, a little bit of fact checking would have gone a long way but of course if that had been done the message to the gullible would have been lost. I would encourage anybody who reads this dribble to do some fact checking, if you are looking for some truth about the horse and carriages of NYC this is not a good source.

  6. Hey West Coast Horsewoman, its called English not Enlish. If your going to rip apart this author for spelling and grammar, maybe you should spell check your own comment.

  7. More than 20 deaths??? Please provide your source for this claim. You linked to the NYCLASS website where it is stated, “New York City has had more than 20 carriage horse ACCIDENTS …”. They go on to list six (6) accidents in the past eight (8) years. Believe me, if there were more, those crones would have listed them also. That is just one of many inaccuracies in your article. Instead of copying and pasting from ARA sites, you should get off your butt and do some fact-checking … you’re making a fool of yourself.

  8. Please, please, if you are going to write a piece on something you CAN research, please do. Good writers research their subject BEFORE they sit down to type. Of course, you can go do some research now and write a retraction! THe horses are in good flesh, well cared for and beloved by their owners AND folks who look forward to seeing them in NYC.

  9. NYC is so polluted and filthy humans shouldn’t even be living there! At least humans have a choice…Are you people serious? Regardless of deaths, regardless of accidents, horses need acres of land with grass to be able to run on, not concrete/paved roads. As an employee of an animal sanctuary, I see horses coming from abusive situations in which they don’t have room to roam and be free AND YOU SHOULD SEE HOW HAPPY THESE ANIMALS ARE TO BE ABLE TO RUN. Horses DO NOT belong in the middle of New York City. It’s common sense people. These horses are probably just as happy as slaves were in the 1800’s….I’ve also met plenty of these horse carriage drivers and if you think they care about the animals you obviously are a feeble minded idiot that doesn’t understand how capitalism works. The author is clearly a compassionate person and it seems we live in a world full of heart-less people. Why don’t you get on your knees and pull me around New York City? Exploiting animals is wrong and soon the world will be laughing at the fact that we once subjected innocent beings to this kind of cruelty. Thank you to the author for helping expose this horrendous industry.

  10. Anyone who does not place importance on animal rights is at the rear-end of this country’s progressive social movements, and forcing an animal into labor goes against its principal argument (which, by the way, will only get stronger as more research is done on animal behavior and ecology). FORCING A SENTIENT BEING IS SIMPLY WRONG, UNNECESSARY and OUTDATED. The ignorance of the previous comments are astounding.

  11. *Forcing a sentient being to work*

    And MARCIA- We live in a democratic state with a right for freedom of speech. How is it not our business to research our interests and passions in the hopes to provide that information with our fellow citizens? I’d also like to add that it is OUR MONEY (tourists, visitors, faithful New Yorkers) that keeps this industry alive! Dani (her name is clearly stated at the bottom if you would have read, West Coast Horsewoman) wrote a good opinion article and I really appreciate her exposure of this horrible, oppressive, and sad industry.

  12. Horses have built our civilization for us and as part of that “contract” it is our moral obligation to find room for them in our lives. There is no place better for that statement of inclusion then Central Park. With well over 100000 horses going to slaughter this year there are thousands upon thousands of horses who need a job to save their lives. Horses in NYC are fit, healthy and mentally engaged with purpose, the only reason they would ever be at risk would be by misguided attempts to ban them.

  13. Hello
    My name is Barbara and I am 80 years old. I am sad to see that so many people are okay with horses being kept in the big city. I grew up in the city and always felt bad for the horses and people didn’t understand. It is nice that the animal rights people are working so hard to end this cruelty. I am in full support. Anyone who is not should really re-think things.

  14. Wow. Based on the vitriol being spewed by some, it seems clear that they are motivated by a personal agenda and are not looking at the article objectively. Perhaps the haters are having trouble looking past their own purse strings to appreciate that the author’s concern is simply for the safety and well-being of the horses. The ad hominem attacks by West Coast Horse Face…err…I mean Woman… are beneath contempt. Perhaps, if she forewent her failed attempt at reading and spent more time with horses she would learn something about quiet dignity.

  15. Wow. Very surprised and saddened by the nature of these comments. The author is clearly coming from a place of care and empathy for these creatures. Regardless of whether or not the horses are fit and healthy, it isn’t fair to force them into this unnatural environment when they should be free. These are creatures who can feel pain and pleasure, and thus should be free and happy- not pulling carriages for selfish, self-entitled pricks for entertainment. Kudos to the author for bringing awareness to this issue, and shame on those who feel these animals should be unnecessarily used for pointless selfishness.

  16. Walker is absolutely true, The “facts” quoted in the article above regarding abuse are either
    out right lies (20 deaths??) or gross distortions. Their “expert” , BirnKamp, from the radical animal rights side knows about as much about real horse needs and welfare as a 7 year old kid knows quantum mechanics. Equine Veterinarians, experienced horse professionals AND the director of the international Equine Protection Society have all evaluated the stables, horses, and overall conditions and proclaimed them good! Don’t have time to go into the other errors-but the others who have commented as “pro” have caught them!

  17. I live and work with horses, and have for my entire life. They LIKE having a job, they enjoy interacting with people, and the need to “run free” in pastures is VERY overblown. Horses and dogs are perhaps the most adaptive domesticated animals we have. They do JUST FINE being stall kept, and living in a city. Do not be fooled by the AR claims of empathy for the horses. They have a singular agenda, and that is to remove ALL animals from any kind of servitude to man. Add in the valuable real estate that is in question, and you begin to see the true picture of what is happening. A draft horse pulling a carriage IS NOT ABUSE! It is what the horse was bred to do. Calling it abuse cheapens the word, and takes the focus off of real abuse and animal welfare issues. Leave these people alone, and let these wonderful animals continue to do their job.

  18. If the horses were indeed abused, I’d be in favor of a ban. As it is, Mayor Bill got elected with the aid of lots of strings-attached money from anti-carriage interests. Somehow, they fooled many people, the mayor included, into believing that just by being a carriage horse, that horse was abused. And what do we call a person who is controlled by others using attached strings? Why, yes, a puppet.

  19. It is frightening that in 2014 there are people so ignorant that they actually believe that these horses are happy in their “jobs”! Get real! Horses are not only herd animals, but they are not indigenous to the city. Good for you ,Dani Plotkin, for at least trying to open the eyes of the close-minded illiterates. They are either too blind, or too naive, or just plain stupid to see that these poor animals are being exploited and abused!!! Your article was well written and needed to be published.

  20. Author Dani Plotkin reponds:
    The intent of this article is not to offend, but to shed some light on what I feel is the abuse associated with the horse carriage industry in NYC. While this post was mistakenly originally not in the opinion section of the site, it is now properly placed here, as it reflects my side of this very controversial topic. That being said, that is why many of my sources are derived from animal advocacy groups, and not associations that I deem to be anti-animal, such as the Calvary Group. Moreover, a team of copy editors has read this story, to vet the sources. This article was written no differently than that of an opinion piece on CNN or other news sites. We’ve taken out unsubstantiated claims and made sure certain claims are attributed to credible sources.

  21. Laurie: I’m having a hard time both believing your argument and believing that you can possibly believe your argument. There was another group of individuals in the history of this country who were ‘domesticated’ and given ‘jobs’ without any pay aside from food and shelter (if you could call it that). The common consensus was that they were animals who were bred for this kind of work and actually enjoyed it. Your statements are just plain ignorant, assuming you know what a horse “likes”. The slaves sang while they worked: so they must have liked it too.

    Shannon B: Read the book “Animal Farm” and then tell me about horses retiring. It may be an allegory but Boxer’s demise from overworking is completely accurate.

    West Coast Horsewoman: I’m an English teacher and there are no more spelling errors in this article than in the Times. It’s the editor’s job to find errors and they rarely find them all. Also, as Brett said, in this country it’s spelled “English”. I suppose she does have a lot of spelling errors if you speak “Enlish”.

    Brett: Sorry, but learn the difference between “your” and “you’re”. Although I agree with everything you said 🙂

  22. Author Dani. Interesting that you say you “feel” the horses are abused without showing any actual evidence of abuse. Your feelings really don’t matter in this debate. Abuse is a crime, multiple agencies, some of whom want to shut down this industry, are responsible for investigating every claim of abuse and they have found only 1. One. So you can feel these horses are abused all you want, the FACT remains that they are not.

    Your sources are not “animal advocacy groups”. Your sources are animal rights extremists. There is a difference. There are many experts on equine health and behavior that have commented that the horses are fine, well cared for and happy and you have not chosen to cite any of the many. That your copy editors read this story means nothing if they share the same fact-free bias that you do.

    Lastly you claim you only reported on credible claims. There is no proof anywhere that an amusement park ride through the park is viable. Should these drivers be forced to drive glorified go carts, and that business goes under, what then? If you did some fact checked you would find that there is no city where this scheme has worked. It is offered here as a smoke screen for a real estate property grab.

  23. HorseOwner:

    This is an opinion piece, so yea, she “feels” that way, just as you “feel” that they’re NOT being abused, even though they clearly are. Abuse is a crime indeed, however when the laws surrounding this industry are sooo shaky, it’s hard to convict people….that is way the Humane Society along with NYPD now are trying out new methods of investigation! The animal rights groups are not in fact extremists…maybe you could say PETA is…but the rest are not..animal rights extremists are normally eco terrorists and go to outlandish and often dangerous extremes to prove a point…the Calvary Group could than be labeled as an extremist.
    Lastly, you’re clearly missing the point of this article if you think the author is concerned with the success of the electric horseless industry,… she clearly doesnt care if the replacement industry is effective for the few 150 drivers…she just wants freedom and justice for the horses…normally as the story stated replacement industries are not even offered. good day.

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