Carriages, horses, NYC … perfect together

Erin Smith

January 14, 2014

An icon of New York City tourism may soon be “gone with the wind” if newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way. It seems that de Blasio has decided to wage a one-man war to put an end to the so-called carriage horse industry in New York City.
To many tourists, one of the many pleasures of visiting the city is taking a horse-drawn carriage ride through New York's Central Park. These rides are especially popular during the Christmas holidays and around Valentines Day. Many honeymooning couples have taking those rides as well as many brides having had their wedding photos made in them.
Animal rights groups, however, claim that the carriage rides are cruel to the horses because it forces them to mingle with automobiles in an already overcrowded traffic situation, thereby making an already tedious traffic situation that much more difficult. Activists also claim the horses are worked to the point of exhaustion.
Case in point: This past summer a carriage horse did collapse and die in August and another carriage horse became upset, suddenly bolted with the carriage in tow, striking a car and eventually flipping and destroying the carriage. Thankfully there were no passengers in the carriage. While the horse involved in the second incident was uninjured, it left many folks scratching their collective heads and added ammunition to those wanting to put an end to the carriage rides.
While these aren't the only incidents involving wayward carriage horses, these two incidents garnered some not-so-friendly headlines for New York in the national media.
For anyone who has been around horses, they know that horses can quickly become agitated by the darnedest things. Horse enthusiasts also know that the one thing that irritates one horse will not necessarily irritate a different horse.
There are those who argue that the carriages should be motorized and the horses retired. But there are those, such as actor Liam Neeson, who feel that, while there are pitfalls to the horse-drawn carriages, the benefits to tourism as well as the beauty and reminder of a bygone era outweigh the dangers.
Before we go banning the iconic carriage rides altogether, maybe we need to look more closely at how that industry is currently regulated. Maybe we need to stop and determine if there is a need to tighten or enact tougher rules and regulations regarding the animals and the operation of the rides in general. Currently there are rules and regulations in place regarding maintenance to be performed on the carriages themselves.
There are also rules regarding how long a horse may work and how many breaks the horse must be given between rides during a shift. The rules also address providing the horse with access to adequate food and water during its shift.When these rules and regulations are violated there are fines that can be issued and in some cases, a carriage driver and/or carriage barn owner can loose his/her license to operate for very serious violations.
Horses are a lot like people in that they, too, can have good days and bad days. Horses don't understand why certain behaviors that come naturally to them, are considered ill manners and “bad for business.” For example, horses have an inbred instinct to run from perceived dangers. So when they feel frightened or startled by something, no matter how trivial you are I may perceive the situation to be, the horse is going to run.
So the carriage driver has to be vigilant, know his horse well, know what things tend to cause him to startle and when the horse feels uncomfortable, it is up to the driver to settle him down and reassure him. It is also up to the carriage driver and carriage barn owner to watch for signs that the horse is in distress or signs the horse may be sick. Any good horse owner should automatically do those things for their steed anyway.
As we all know, in any industry there is always at least one bad apple, but we don't judge the entire industry based on that one bad apple. The future of the carriage horse in New York City is under fire, there is no doubt about that. The question here is, do we want to ban an iconic industry based on the actions of a few bad apples or do we want to review the laws and make them tougher for those that violate them?
As a former horse owner, I say toughen the rules and stiffen the penalties to include jail time for violators. That won't solve all of the issues with the industry, but it will make it safer for the horses and more enjoyable for the tourists.
Erin Smith is a staff writer for the Bladen Journal. She can be reached by telephone at 910-862-4163 or by email at Follow her on twitter @ErynnSmith.