The Big Apple has never been very tasty for working horses. Beating, overdriving, and overloading them in the streets stirred Henry Bergh to lead the first organized efforts to protect animals in Manhattan. The scale of the mistreatment is far more limited, but the same types of abuse that carriage horses saw in the 1800s continue today in New York City — but with none of the practical purposes in a pre-automobile era that motivated the use of the horses more than a century ago.
Last month, an elderly, malnourished, ailing horse named Ryder garnered global attention when he collapsed onto a sizzling hot street in Hell’s Kitchen. It was a scene that has ricocheted around the world and is now etched into the minds of millions of people; a pitiable outcome that reveals just how callous some carriage-horse operators have become in their treatment of the animals that provide their livelihoods.
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Even to the untrained eye, Ryder was in visibly poor condition. Not a large horse by any means, he was badly emaciated, with every rib showing, his spine and hip bones protruding, all while pulling carriages full of tourists.
We are badly failing America’s equines on several fronts. It’s bad enough that Congress has failed to enact anti-horse slaughter legislation — the SAFE Act — for nearly 25 years; that the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has failed to stamp out the painful scourge of soring that was outlawed 52 years ago; that racehorses are dying on tracks across America; and that President Biden’s Bureau of Land Management has rounded up and incarcerated more wild equines living on federal lands than any other administration in history.
But for America’s premier city to stand aside and let one terrible incident after another play out on the streets is a strange act of passiveness in the city that never sleeps. Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made some valiant attempts to ban horse-drawn carriages, but his City Council wouldn’t gallop ahead with the idea. Despite all of the assurances, we’ve seen little improvement in the quality of the horses’ lives in recent decades. Downed horses in New York streets aren’t as regular as the sunrise, but they are frequent, nonetheless.
The horses’ best hope lies with Councilman Robert Holden, a moderate Democrat from Queens, who introduced a measure in July that would not only ban horse-drawn carriages in Manhattan, but replace them with elegant, efficient electric carriages that could be driven by every single driver in the carriage horse business today. The coalition supporting this effort, led by NYCLASS, the Center for a Humane Economy, Animal Wellness Action, and PETA, sent a letter in support of the measure to New York City Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council. More than 50 animal and equine groups, organizations, and businesses across America signed it.
“Congested streets, often slick with rain and with truck exhaust filling their lungs, are no place for horses weighted down by the complex of carriages and the people situated within them,” wrote the groups. “These vivid and painful images of downed horses mar the image of a tourist experience that long ago lost any practical transportation value.”
With other major cities around the world having banned, eliminated, or replaced horse-drawn carriages—including Las Vegas, Nevada; Asheville, North Carolina; Salt Lake City, Utah; Camden, New Jersey; the Florida cities of Key West, Palm Beach, Pompano Beach and Treasure Island; Biloxi, Mississippi; Portland, Oregon, Montreal and Toronto, Canada; Barcelona, Spain; Mumbai, India; Shanghai, China; Guadalajara, Mexico; Paris, France, and many others—there is no excuse for New York’s City Council to allow this abusive exploitation and cruelty on its streets.
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Ryder’s terrible ordeal and the suffering he has endured should not be in vain. The New York City Council should suspend horse-drawn carriage activity and swiftly enact Holden’s legislation to finally eradicate the carriage horse industry for good.
The author, Marty Irby, is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action, senior vice-president of communication and public policy at the Center for a Humane Economy, and an eight-time world champion equestrian who was honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his work to protect horses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @MartyIrby.
Photo: 13-year-old carriage horse Jerry suffered a bout of colic on Saturday, then fell to the ground and refused to get up. (Jeremy Beckham/PETA)