Central Park’s carriage horses: Should they go or should they stay?

By Cristina DC Pastor

If it were only up to soprano Carolyn Joyce Pena, those charming horse-drawn carriages mimicking the feel of an 18th century French wagon should continue to hoof around Central Park.

“They are a vital part of New York,” said Carolyn, a lover of all things Fifth Avenue.

She brought some Ilocano cousins to the park one summer, and the carriages reminded them of the horse buggies of Vigan. The ‘caretelas’ are not as elegant-looking as New York’s carriages with gold-painted chariots and satin-and-tasseled seats but they have the same purpose of taking visitors on a short, educational tour of the city.

Carolyn Joyce Pena

Carolyn Joyce Pena

The future of these horse-drawn carriages has been debated since Bill de Blasio began his earnest campaign for mayor. One of his campaign promises was to retire horse carriages for safety reasons. His proposal earned a strong endorsement from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and animal rights advocates.

In reported incidents of deaths and accidents, the horses just collapse on the street endangering the lives of passengers and causing traffic. The ASPCA has maintained the horse-drawn carriage industry may appear to perpetuate animal cruelty. “They (carriage horses) were never meant to live and work in today’s urban setting…which is extremely difficult and life threatening.”

The industry, which provides jobs to about 300 people, insists the horses are well cared for and are not a bother to anyone. They worry about jobs for carriage drivers once the ban in enforced. They argue also that horse carriages are good for New York’s tourism.

Cathy Rose Garcia

Cathy Rose Garcia

One year into De Blasio’s term, the city is ready to take on the mayor’s pledge. The City Council filed a bill on December 8 seeking to eliminate the horse-drawn carriage industry and move the horses out of the city “to a safe haven where they can thrive.”

“Today, we at the Council took a stand for the protection of our animals,” council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Daniel Dromm said in a statement. They noted how the New York of 1947, when the industry was first regulated, is “vastly different” from today’s city where the culture and its traffic patterns have “dramatically changed.”

They said, “Our horses can no longer be forced to share our bustling roadways with buses, ambulances, taxis and trucks. We cannot and we will not stand for these conditions any longer.”

A decision may take up to six months, according to the council members. The bill will be deliberated on by a NYC Council Legislative Committee, which will incorporate several details to the proposal, including a plan to give the carriage drivers possible slots in the taxi industry. The bill is then submitted to the Council for a final vote.

Cathy Rose Garcia, a financial journalist and frequent New York visitor, said she has not done the carriage ride and it may look like she will never get to experience it once the ban takes effect.

“I feel like the rides are too expensive,” she said.

Seeing the Central Park horses, however, she thought they look better fed and receive better care than the horses at Wright Park in Baguio.

“I just think it’s wrong to have the horses out in the streets, in the rain and in the cold for hours,” she said.

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