Horses have provided transportation in New York since the city was New Amsterdam, but now more than ever before, they are an endangered species in the city, with Mayor Bill de Blasio vowing to ban horse-drawn carriages, and the horses are also political pawns in an environment of loosened campaign laws and sizzling real estate development. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
Horse-drawn carriages in Central Park have clipped and clopped since its opening almost 160 years ago. Now, the horses may be rounding their final turn.
"We very much believe it's time to end the use of horse carriages in this city," Mayor Bill de Blasio said on February 20.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito agrees. She's looking to replace carriages with vintage cars.
Backing them is an animal-rights group whose humble offices belie its political clout. It helped de Blasio get elected last year, if only by knocking out former rival Christine Quinn. Now, its members intend to hold de Blasio to his word on a ban.
"It is simply not appropriate to have 1,200-pound animals marching through dangerous Midtown traffic," said Allie Feldman of NYCLASS.
It points to recent crashes, captured in disturbing detail. Yet the city Department of Health says that there was just one incident resulting in an injured horse last year.
Opening up the stables, drivers insist that horses are hardly mistreated.
"In our society, about the only thing worse than animal abuser is a child molester. And we are not animal abusers. We're animal lovers," said Christina Hansen, a horse carriage driver.
There are exceptions, but veterinarians have long OK'd the quarters, where horses can lie down.
Still, interaction between bars may not be ideal. A common area would not only be expensive, drivers say it could also lead to more injuries.
On the street, the horses trot seemingly undisturbed by normal commotion. Laws keep them inside if it's too hot or too cold.
The horses are born and bred outside of New York, and then they're brought here after they turn 5 years old. Then, they undergo training so they can work on city streets.
Those who spend the most time with the horses say that they thrive on work and routine. Fares also bankroll their care.
Opponents say that the animals will only find real peace at rural farms. Of course, whether the equines prefer that or street work, well, no human can say for sure.