Bigger Questions: New York State Horse Council Issues Statement on Manhattan Carriage Horses, Urges Nationwide Support

New York City carriage horse

New York City carriage horses are already some of the most regulated horses in the world. The New York State Horse Council has gone on record in the defense of horses in the city. (Victoria Pickering image)

We’ve all heard of war horses, but has there ever been a war over horses? The unlikely battleground of New York City’s Central Park has long echoed with protests from horse advocates who would like to see the horses move on to safer territory, but since the recent election of Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, the carriage horses that stroll around Central Park have become a stop-him-now symbol for conservative foes who know an emotional fight over animals is a great way to involve the masses.

As with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s embarrassing “Bridgegate” last week, the horses are an issue that everyone across the nation can understand. While other issues facing de Blasio may be wrapped up in local politics or couched in regulations and personalities unknown on the other side of the Hudson River, the horses are out in plain sight.

As more information about the war over carriage horses emerges, horse owners across the USA are doing a double-take. Many were upset a few years again with the idea of a national surveillance of horse movement by the USDA. New legislation proposed for governing the carriage horses goes even further to impinge on the rights of horse owners to make decisions about their animals: The horses may not be sold to any owner who plans to use them for work in the future; they may only be sold as companion animals or to a sanctuary, if the proposal goes through.

While most horsepeople would likely agree that the horses are in a dangerous job and might be safer off the streets, there has been a groundswell of support for the rights of licensed carriage drivers to continue to ply their trade. The owners submit to inspections and follow regulations; violations are widely publicized. Many give examples of other jobs or places where horses are at risk, including the fact that more than 20 horses died on New York’s racetracks last year.

Today New York State Horse Council (NYSHC) President Marsha Himler to issue a statement on behalf of her organization today. Her statement coincides with a flurry of anti-de Blasio news reports from the conservative press, including a lengthy feature hosted by Sean Hannity on Fox News. Himler, however, cuts through the politics to talk about the horses themselves.

Meanwhile, cues from Melissa Mark-Viverito, the newly elected speaker of the City Council and a de Blasio ally, suggest that the carriage horse issue might take a back seat for a while, in spite of de Blasio’s campaign promise that the horses would be gone in the first week of his time in office. In an interview yesterday on WABC, Mark-Viverito intimated that she needed time to bring new council members up to speed on the issue before a vote could be taken on new legislation.

Also on WABC, carriage driver Steve Malone explained his position, and reminded viewers that the drivers are members of the powerful Teamsters Union. He compared deaths of carriage horses with deaths of horses in the sport of eventing. Malone stressed, “This is a worldwide event”, noting that he has heard from people all over the world.

The New York State Horse Council has taken action anyway. Himler’s statement to horse owners in New York and the public reads:

Marsha Himler

Marsha Himler, President of the New York State Horse Council (photo used with permission

“It is not a question of whether the carriage trade is necessary to New York City or not. The carriage horses are an iconic symbol of NYC; they are part of the cultural heritage not only of NYC but also of America. They provide economic benefits to the City through tourism and tax revenues. Today’s carriage horses provide a presence and exposure to rural animals not available to many anywhere else.

“Some people have labelled the carriage horse industry as ‘inhumane.’ It is not. While the word ‘inhumane’ is not mentioned in the law, cruelty is. NYS Agriculture & Markets Law, Article 26 and more specifically, Section 353, defines cruelty as “failure to provide proper sustenance, such as food, water, shelter and veterinary care.

“All the NYC carriage horses are well taken care of and have better than average stabling available to them. Each horse is provided food and water (each carriage carries food and water for the horses so they may eat/drink during working hours); the stables are warm, well-ventilated and have spacious stalls for resting during non-working hours; veterinary care is required and provided annually and on-call; each horse also has a mandatory 5 week vacation break.

“The world is watching what happens here; the outcome could affect YOU!” — Marsha Himler

“The NYC carriage horses are probably the most regulated horses in the country, if not the world. They are covered by approximately 144 pages of regulations; they are watched over very closely by several organizations, including the ASPCA.

“It is the opinion of the Board of Directors of the New York State Horse Council that the NYC carriage horses and their owners should be allowed to continue to operate their small businesses without fear of reprisal or loss of livelihood. The horses are a great tourist attraction because they ARE horses — not cold, impersonal pieces of metal.

“The NYS Horse Council calls on all other State Horse Councils and all concerned horse groups and horsepersons throughout the country to come to the support of the New York City carriage horses and the carriage industry. The world is watching what happens here; the outcome could affect YOU!”

Marsha S. Himler, President, NYS Horse Council

In addition, the New York State Horse Council published a new set of recommended guidelines for the care of horses in that state.

Himler’s closing sentence may echo through horse owners’ minds if they read a proposed amendment to the already-lengthy regulation of carriage horses in New York. The draft includes this outline of steps a carriage horse owner would have to take to sell his or her own horse, regardless of the animal’s age, health or training:

§ 17-3[29]30 Disposition of licensed horse.

a. The department shall be notified of the transfer of ownership or other disposition of a licensed horse within [ten] five days thereafter. Such notice shall include the date of disposition and [if sold in New York city,] the name and address of the buyer or other transferee and such other information as the commissioner may prescribe.

b. A horse shall not be sold or disposed of except in a humane manner, which, for the purposes of this subchapter shall mean one of the following:

  1. The owner shall sell or donate the horse to a private individual who signs an assurance that the horse will not be sold and shall be kept solely as a companion animal and not employed in another horse-drawn carriage business or as a work horse and will cared for humanely for the remainder of the horse’s natural life; or
  2. The owner shall sell of donate the horse to a duly incorporated animal sanctuary or duly incorporated animal protection organization whose president or executive director signs an assurance that the horse will not be sold and shall be kept solely as a companion animal and not employed in another horse-drawn carriage business and will be cared for humanely for the remainder of the horse’s natural life.

c. Records indicating the name, address and telephone number of the private individual, duly incorporated animal sanctuary or duly incorporated animal protection organization to whom the horse was sold or donated together with the assurance specified above shall be sent by the owner to the department within five days after such sale or donation. A copy of such record shall also be maintained at the stable.

YouTube Preview Image

This video summarizes a timeline of history and politics affecting the carriage business in New York.

What began as a tempest in a Manhattan teacup has escalated into a national news story with many implications. De Blasio’s promise to send the horses packing during his first week in office did not materialize, but national publicity did. The publicity has less to do with horses than with his populist politics that raise ire and funds on the conservative side of the coin.

However, the publicity has managed to bring to light some issues that resonate with horse owners, many of whom oppose efforts to remove the horses by political decree. The latest disclosure of limiting ownership rights in the sale of horses in the future is even more eye-opening.

The issue has also made some strange bedfellows; who can help but chuckle as conservative spokesmen on Fox News defend Teamster member carriage drivers in Manhattan?

Himler is correct in her warning that horsepeople across the country need to be aware of what is going on in New York. Many ideas are emerging for compromise in the war over horses in Central Park that could become blueprints for other conflicts facing horses in other places or breeds or sports. Horses are not a conservative or liberal issue. They are not trading pieces in a political boardgame. Their future requires creative, constructive planning guided by people who understand their needs and what an asset they could be to any city, anywhere.

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14 Responses to “Bigger Questions: New York State Horse Council Issues Statement on Manhattan Carriage Horses, Urges Nationwide Support”

  1. kathy shopa says:

    i have had my own horse business in MN for many years, giving rides to the public. I know, just by looking at pictures of these carriage horses, that they are very well taken care of. The training and time that has gone into each and everyone of them, is extensive. I absolutely cannot believe it can be possible that someone(govt) can even possibly steal these animals from the owners, or put them out of business. I have owned many draft animals, and know personally what it takes to keep them. The time, care, money, space and equipment, is not something the average horse person can handle. How does anyone think they can care for them just to have them around as a pet? I know exactly what will happen to majority of these magnificent, well cared and loved animals. They will end up, eventually at an auction house, on the way to slaughter! I am so against this new mayor and his stupid promises, I absolutely dispise him! What a complete, ignorant, arrogant, pompous jerk!

  2. Tammy Chapman says:

    Politics at it’s finest. Not enough people are unemployed, now we are going for the horse’s jobs too?
    Are you kidding me? I see a parallel here:
    Horses, well cared for, healthy and happy, providing good living for themselves and drivers.
    Horses are banned and are now unemployed.
    People make complaint that horses will go to slaughter.
    Government creates Grants for care and maintenance of horses while paying subsidies to veterinarians and farmers (who get used to a regular gov’t check).
    (Horses are now on welfare.)
    Government provides care for horses.
    Horses condition deteriorates.
    Additional expenses to restore horse health.
    Horses are put to pasture on gov’t dollar and fare no better.
    Hell’s bells! We’ll all be on the dole before you know it!

  3. I totally agree with Kathy Shopa. And for those who think this is just about NYC’s carriage horses, think again. With horses being declared a \dangerous species\ in CT (prompting personal liability insurance woes for horse owners and/or horse shows and commercial facilities), it is just matter of time until this insanity extends to all horses. What’s next — banning horses for lessons (they suffer while people learn to ride)? Banning tack stores (they can sell bits that might hurt a horse)? Banning horses being bought and sold for showing? Leasing? Talk about BIG BROTHER! Go mind your own business. It’s hard enough for horse owners these days without some gov’t telling you what you can and cannot do with a beloved-but-expensive animal.

    • Charlotte says:

      You DO have a fully functioning crystal ball, Candace Clemens. If the fools in the horse world who have been appeasing the animal rights movement through some unholy alliances with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) – which is not “humane” in the least, and not any part of any government agency – don’t finally come to their senses, horses, dogs, meat, fur and fiber farming, circuses, aquariums, zoos, rodeos, animals of any kind in film or TV production will all be phased out through attrition and/or “euthanasia”, and we will only have memories. I left cats out of the list, because, for some reason, when you go to the Facebook pages of the NYC carriage horse protesters, they all seem to be “cat ladies”. Maybe they will exempt cats from their vegan society – except that the cats will just have to die agonizing deaths soon enough because there will be no more source of food for obligate carnivores like kitty cats. This whole plan will work for them through a simple strategy called “incrementalism” – one little animal/human relationship destroyed at a time. Watch out for land use legislation, because what they can’t get rid of directly, they will take away property rights through environmental and land use regulations that will strangle every animal venue. Please, Candace, put a cover on your crystal ball, it is just too horrible to watch this. I’m glad that I am as old as I am. But in the meantime, I plan to fight this sick ideology til I die.

  4. Lynn says:

    Obviously, not one single person behind this new piece of insanity – sorry, “legislation” – has considered the fact that horses are not happy without a job. They become depressed, agitated, and difficult to manage. Speaking as someone who’s adopted a rescue horse, placed three others, and assisted a close friend with her equine rescues, equine sanctuaries are NOT abundant in this country. What few there are in existence are chronically full, between owner surrenders and equines rescued from kill-auction lots. This whole mess is beyond ridiculous, and it is past time that we Americans stood up for our rights. We have become dangerously complacent, if legislation like this can even be proposed.

  5. Ann says:

    Only a truly gullible person would believe that a majority of these horses will not end up in a slaughter facility. No one will be able to enforce what a person does after they “buy” these horses. Rescues are overflowing, horses are being turned loose on ranch property throughout the West because they are too costly to care for. Horses are starving because people don’t realize the cost to feed and maintain them. What happens when a person who purchased the carriage horse ends up in a nursing home and their relatives refuse to continue to care for the animal? Short sighted gullible fools who think they are doing something good.

  6. Jeannette says:

    They should not be on such congested roads… And why in the heel is there a horse in a upper level apartment???
    People are stupid.

  7. DC says:

    You cannot deprive a citizen of his property without due process. An government edict is not due process and is exactly what the Constitution was written to over ride. IF the carriage horse licenses are ended and a carriage can no longer operate without it’s medallion, the horse and her person can just go home or move to a better City. AS written, this proposal is a joke to fee men.

  8. one draft says:

    I have a “rescued” draft horse. I got him when he was 13 and skin and bones. He was abandoned at a petting zoo after a Milwaukee carriage company sold out. I say abandoned because he was not fed and went to a kid who also didn’t feed him. I don’t know what his weight was after being “retired” from the carriage company but we got him he was 600 pounds underweight. (the vet told us that) Every bone in his body showed (mid winter) and now hair on the bones. We rehab-ed him (took almost a year to regain the weight) and he is fat and beautiful now. Am I against carriages in the cities? not really. Just the careless disposal of them after they are too arthritic to keep going. Pounding the pavement 10 hours a day is not easy on the joints. Not all can go to farms like ours did, or sanctuaries. They should be allowed to find homes, but not just dumped for slaughter. Use them up and send them off to kill. that’s where our guy was headed when a lady stepped in and took him off the slaughter truck. I wish they could just keep them safer!

  9. one draft says:

    I have a \rescued\ draft horse. I got him when he was 13 and skin and bones. He was abandoned at a petting zoo after a Milwaukee carriage company sold out. I say abandoned because he was not fed and went to a kid who also didn’t feed him. I don’t know what his weight was after being \retired\ from the carriage company but we got him he was 600 pounds underweight. (the vet told us that) Every bone in his body showed (mid winter) and now hair on the bones. We rehab-ed him (took almost a year to regain the weight) and he is fat and beautiful now. Am I against carriages in the cities? not really. Just the careless disposal of them after they are too arthritic to keep going. Pounding the pavement 10 hours a day is not easy on the joints. Not all can go to farms like ours did, or sanctuaries. They should be allowed to find homes, but not just dumped for slaughter. Use them up and send them off to kill. that’s where our guy was headed when a lady stepped in and took him off the slaughter truck. I wish they could just keep them safer!

  10. deirdre lightsey says:

    This is one of those ‘tip of the iceberg’ issues, I strongly support the carriage horses continuing in NYC, they are part of the cultural history. Current means are in place to maintain their safety & comfort. A travesty for the City to be in this fight while 10′s of 1000′s of humans are homeless, wishing for the comforts of those lovely carriage horses

    • Flabbergasted says:

      The ‘cultural history” claim is just hogwash. Not so long ago people used to sicc dogs on bears or bulls in pits. It was called bear or bull baiting and was very much part of the culture in Europe, England and even parts of the US.

      Should bear baiting be allowed to return? How about bull baiting? What about decriminalizing cock fighting and dog fighting?

      After all, cock fighting is very much a part of some people’s “cultural history” as is dog fighting.

  11. Skeptical Suzie says:

    The carriage horse industry in NYC has steadfastly refused to compromise for years over improving the working and living conditions of the horses it uses. This industry also has continued to “get rid” of its older horses any way it wishes including by methods that have lead to the horses ending up in kill buyers’ feed lots. Several have bee bought out of these lots by anti-carriage advocates, and sent to sanctuaries.

    The truth is beginning to emerge aobut the drivers’ and owners’ apparent indifference to the horses’ proper care and health, as well as to how and where they ‘dump” them when they can no longer work.

    The carriage horse owners often use a horse dealer as a “middle man” so they can continue to claim “we do not send our horses to auction or kill buyers.” But they do know that these middle men or dealers often send the old and/or unsound horses directly to auction or sell directly to a kill buyer.

    This is just some of the “sophistry” this industry uses to gain gullible supporters for what is a dirty, morally bankrupt industry where the “few bad apples” continue to intimidate everyone who challenges them into silence, even people within their own ranks right in New York City.

    ‘http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/21/nyregion/carriage-horse-driver-is-charged-with-animal-cruelty.html?_r=0

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