United States: will horse-drawn carriages in New York eventually disappear?

A horse-drawn carriage in Central Park on August 3, 2022 in New York. (©AFP/Archives/ANGELA WEISS)

Like the yellow cabs, the Statue of Liberty or Broadway, horse-drawn carriages are New York clichés. But these tourist walks around Central Park are in the sights of elected officials and animal defenders who would prefer electric carts.

“Manhattan is probably the worst place on the planet for a horse to work in, traffic, noise, pollution and heat,” protests Robert Holden, a 71-year-old New York City Councilman and author of a text which would require the replacement of horse-drawn carriages by electric vehicles by June 2024.

130 coachmen and 200 horses

For years, animal rights activists – more and more in the United States – have wanted to put an end to this tourist attraction existing since the 19th century around the green lung of Manhattan. New York Matters Today 130 coachmen who share 68 licenses and some 200 horses housed in municipal stables.

Opponents of horse-drawn carriages mobilized in early August, in particular some activists from the association Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), when a horse suddenly collapsed one hot afternoon on the roadway of the huge 9th Avenue in Manhattan, lined with skyscrapers.

Demonstration against the
Demonstration against the “cruelty” of horse-drawn carriages, August 11, 2022 in New York. (©AFP/Archives/ANGELA WEISS)

A video on social media shows the animal on the ground while angry motorists tell him to get up.

“Cruelty” and “barbarism”

A micro-demonstration against “cruelty” horse-drawn carriages brought together 15 people. American model Bella Hadid judged on Instagram that these walks were “ barbarity “. The fashion star urged the New York City Council to pass Mr Holden’s bill.

Horse-drawn carriages waiting for customers in Central Park on August 3, 2022 in New York City.
Horse-drawn carriages waiting for customers in Central Park on August 3, 2022 in New York City. (©AFP/Archives/ANGELA WEISS)

For animal advocates, New York horses live in poor conditions, suffer from malnutrition and dehydrationare terrified by car traffic and work by force.

“They are treated like machines and they are not machines”, thunders Edita Birnkrant, director of an animalist group, NYCLASS, who thinks that horse-drawn carriages have nothing to do in “a modern New York”.

No more than nine hours a day

On the contrary, operators ensure that these horses are well cared for and that their area is closely monitored by the city’s health authorities. In fact, they are prohibited from working more than nine hours a dayabove 32 degrees in summer and below 7 degrees in winter.

The horses “are happy and healthy. You can’t force a 1,500-pound (680 kg) animal to do what it doesn’t want to do,” insists Christina Hansen, a coachwoman in New York for 10 years and whose horse Oreo is entitled to five weeks of “ annual leave in the countryside.

Carriage coach Christina Hansen, in a barn in Manhattan, on August 26, 2022 in New York City.
Carriage coach Christina Hansen, in a barn in Manhattan, on August 26, 2022 in New York City. (©AFP/ANGELA WEISS)

And then what would New York be without its horse-drawn carriages, asks this 42-year-old woman: “We are seen in the cinema and on TV. We’re as photogenic as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.”

$160 per horse-drawn carriage ride

In Central Park, where a 45-minute walk still costs $160, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, tourists are divided. A horse-drawn carriage driver can make $100,000 a year, according to Christina Hansen.

Coachwoman Christina Hansen drives her horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Manhattan on August 26, 2022 in New York City.
Coachwoman Christina Hansen drives her horse-drawn carriage through the streets of Manhattan on August 26, 2022 in New York City. (©AFP/ANGELA WEISS)

“Absolutely immoral! exclaims Briton Cailey Tyler, who is in favor of a ban, as does Maria Luzynska, a Polish woman for whom seeing horses “under the heat” gives New York “the worst impression”.

On the contrary, Argentina’s Marina Perry sees in it “a cultural dimension that has been going on for generations”. Coach Christina Hansen explains that the sector is now “dominated by immigrants” from around twenty countries such as Italy, Ireland, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico.

Towards a ban in the fall?

Opposite, supporters of Mr. Holden’s bill hope a vote in october. The text would have to gather 26 votes out of 51 and the last word will go to the mayor of New York Eric Adams.

A carriage horse in a barn in Manhattan on August 26, 2022 in New York.
A carriage horse in a barn in Manhattan on August 26, 2022 in New York. (©AFP/Archives/ANGELA WEISS)

A ban is far from certain as the coachmen are backed by the powerful city transit union and Ms Hansen thinks no one in New York fancy a ride in an ‘electric golf cart’.

Source: © 2022 AFP

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