To an applauding studio-audience on John Stewart’s “The Daily Show” in 2014, Bill de Blasio said “It’s not fair when you think about what their lives should be and what our society is like.” Ending the horse carriage industry in NYC was among his first campaign promises which never came to fruition. Now, with just over a month remaining in his final term, Mayor de Blasio is taking his final stand to end horse drawn carriages in New York City.
Fettering an animal to a cart and forcing it to pull humans, on cement, across the noisiest and most automobile-packed environment on earth sounds like an irresponsible idea. That’s not an incorrect perspective. But observing other perspectives involved provides a clearer picture as to why Bill de Blasio, after eight years, struggles to end the romanticized profession of carriage horses, which on paper, sounds barbaric.
In 2010, Dr. Harry Werner, a past president of The American Association of Equine Practitioners, was asked to assess the health and well-being of five stables operating horses in Manhattan. Four years later, a newly appointed Mayor de Blasio began his campaign to end the industry. At that time, Werner told The New York Times, “Based on that inspection, I found no evidence whatsoever of inhumane conditions, neglect or cruelty in any aspect… what happens is that people anthropomorphize… They see a circumstance where they wouldn’t want to work in it, and think a horse wouldn’t work in it.”
In 2014, The New York State Veterinary Medical Society wrote an open letter to the new Mayor, opposing his proposal to eliminate the horse-drawn carriage industry. They wrote, “The equine practitioner members of the NYSVMS, both within the City of New York and elsewhere, have familiarized themselves with the conditions under which these animals live and work and find they are healthy, happy, well-fed and sheltered. They are the recipients of the best level of health care possible.”
The industry is well regulated but not without abuses – and with nearly eight million cellphones in transit, there have been plenty of unsettling events documented. Horses are known to spook easily, and that doesn’t bode well in the noisiest and most unpredictable of concrete jungles. Earlier this year, a horse named Chief became scared, the driver lost control, and the horse smashed into a parked BMW, knocking itself unconscious. A gathering crowd captured the bloodied animal as it lay across the concrete. Chief awoke, hooves flailing, damaging the car, the carriage and himself. Three days later, PETA and NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets) demonstrated by gathering at the site and throwing fake blood on the street, recalling the gore witnessed days before.
? PROTEST MONDAY: Autopsy reveals NYC carriage horse Aysha KILLED by industry-wide neglect + preventable disease enabled by @nycHealthy – like so many other carriage horses. NY Veterinarian + NYCLASS call on @NYCCouncil to BAN the abuse. 12pm-1pm March 1: https://t.co/t3OAmUaeH1 pic.twitter.com/eyx7TT1qqk
— NYCLASS (@nyclass) February 28, 2021
After an autopsy, there were no signs of neglect. However, the horse had an undiagnosed genetic disease called polysaccharide storage myopathy, or PSSM. Eileen Jefferson, a New York State Representative for The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, told AMNY, “Despite such a high prevalence of this disease in draft horses, there has been no indication that the New York City carriage industry utilizes any of the available diagnostic screens to prevent the potentially excruciating and debilitating effects of PSSM.”
Mayor de Blasio is set to push new legislation through City Council in the coming days, while advocates from both sides line up in support or opposition. Both sides declare to know what’s best for these animals. Both sides declare they know what it’s like to walk a mile in a horse’s shoes.