A line of horse carriages outside of Central Park is a welcome sight to many New Yorkers, and tourists alike, but if Mayor Bill DeBlasio has his way, horse drawn carriage rides, a long-standing New York tradition, may become a tradition of the past.
Within his first week in office DeBlasio had promised to end the practice of horse drawn carriages in Central Park, a practice that he and others believe is inhumane, and though his first week has come and gone, the possibility of a ban still lingers. Just this week, an alderman in Chicago, inspired by DeBlasio’s plan, announced a proposal to ban horse drawn carriages in Chicago. A move he has planned as an attempt to "beat New York to the punch."
Carriage bans in both New York, and Chicago are backed by animal rights activists who regard the institutions as antiquated and abusive. Protest groups, like the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages, who declined to comment, believe that big cities like New York and Chicago are no places for large farm animals like horses. Citing a "nose to tailpipe" existence as only a piece of the problem, ban supporters claim the horses are overworked, underfed, and exhausted. They claim the horses are forced to labor eight hours a day in sometimes extreme weather conditions, and housed in stables that are not up to regulation standards. Activists point to traffic accidents involving the carriages, which have occurred in the past, and pigeon deaths, caused by the birds being trampled by the large animals, as more reason to support a ban. However, bans threaten the livelihood of many involved in the business, including carriage drivers.
Sukru Hasan, 62, of Brooklyn said protest groups don’t fully understand the matter. A driver since 1987, Hasan believes that the ban is being supported by “a small group of small minded people who have no knowledge of the horses or the issue.”
“I like my job, it’s honest work. I don’t want to be dependent on the government. People enjoy the horses, they take pride in them; they are apart of New York City,” he said.
Carriage driver Antonio Kara, 35, of Weehawken, N.J, is not fazed by the proposed ban, which he believes will have a hard time passing between New Yorkers' overwhelming support of the time-honored establishment, and the willingness of drivers such as himself to fight for their profession. What is a concern for Kara is how protesters of the horse and carriage business work for their cause, picketing outside of Central Park, and taunting the carriage drivers.
“They come here looking for a reaction,” he said. “They try to provoke us yelling insulting racial slurs, and running cameras the whole time.”
Antonio Kara readies his carraige for its next passengers.
Other drivers, who wished to remain anonymous when speaking about the ban, voiced their displeasure with the racial overtones protesters took, calling their ethnic slurs a “low blow.”
“We stay away from the protesters,” said Erwin Mees, 47, a veteran carriage driver, and immigrant from Belgium. “They don’t make too much sense.”
Mees, Hasan, and Kara all cited strict citywide legislation regulating carriage horses in defense of abuse claims. Horses who work in the city work eight hours a day in the park, and spend five weeks to six months “vacation,” on Mennonite farms in Pennsylvania.
“I don’t understand how this would be abusive,” said Lorie Amundson, 49, of Still Water, MN, who took a carriage ride through Central Park on a recent visit to the city. “I am a horse owner myself, and these horses are of good weight, with shiny coats, and healthy hooves,” she said, “They’re draft horses, built to pull. A horse like this would become depressed without work. These are happy horses.”
A familiar Central Park scene.
Amundson was impressed with her driver’s knowledge about the horses, and wasn’t concerned about their working conditions at all. In fact, she noted a draft horse working on a farm would probably work longer hours pulling heavier loads.
“It’s charming, probably a more interesting life than most,” Amundson said, her sisters nodding their heads in agreement, “and who could argue with five weeks vacation?”