UK & World News
Mayor's Move To Ban NYC Horse-Drawn Carriages
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he intends to ban horse-drawn carriage rides in Central Park.
He says the industry is cruel and outdated, and that it "should no longer be a part of the landscape in New York City".
The move has delighted animal welfare and rights campaigners, who have long argued the business is inherently inhumane.
But drivers and tourists have reacted with dismay that the traditional industry, which has featured in films like Woody Allen's Manhattan and Sex And The City, could soon cease to exist.
Well-known campaigner Donny Moss, who made a documentary on the animals called Blinders, said his main concern is the horses are deprived of daily turnout, or access to open space to roam relatively freely.
Speaking on behalf of the Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages, he told Sky News: "The horses or either confined between the shafts of the carriages for nine hours a day or they are in stalls that are about 60 square feet, so they never have the have the opportunity to graze, run, roll or interact physically with other horses, as herd animals do.
"Horses are animals, yet by forcing to them to work in the streets with aggressive taxi drivers, and tour buses and ambulances, we are treating them as though they are motor vehicles, as inanimate objects.
"It's unfair to them, its unsafe for them and it jeopardises the public safety.
"Horses are prey animals, they are flight animals, and when a horse spooks and bolts down the street, he or she becomes a weapon."
It is not mandatory to report carriage accidents or incidents, so official figures do not exist.
But the anti-carriage advocacy group NYCLASS (New Yorkers for clean, liveable, and safe streets) says it knows of 20 incidents or accidents since 2011, ranging from a horse dropping dead on the street, to animals spooking and injuring passengers.
Carriage drivers and owners say incidents of spooking or bolting are extremely infrequent.
They argue that they love and look after their animals, and are being stripped of their livelihoods because of a moral objection to their work.
Driver and industry spokeswoman Christina Hansen told Sky News: "Horses live where people live. Horses have been domesticated for 6,000 years and they have been here in New York City since 1624.
"Our horses are draught horses. Draught horses have been bred for centuries to have work ethics, to want to be with people, to please people, to have a routine.
"It wouldn't matter what our stables were like, and actually we have very nice stables by horse stable standards, they (the animal rights activists) just think that horses shouldn't be working at all, that you shouldn't ride them, you shouldn't drive them, and if you do own them they should be a companion animal in a field some place.
"We have been inspected by all kinds of agencies and we are not being issued violations for the welfare of the horses, that's just simply not happening, the idea that this is a humane issue is just nonsense."
Among the drivers waiting for fares on Central Park South, there was anger and confusion.
Colm Glennon has been driving for 20 years.
He said: "It's crazy, absolutely crazy. There's no real reason to ban the business, and it is so regulated, we love our animals.
"Why hasn't Bill de Blasio been down here and to our stables to see for himself?"
Tommy Hughes said: "Horses and men were meant to be together.
"It's mandatory that the horses have to leave the city every year, for five weeks, to go on pasture."
It is also New York law that inspectors can visit the stables, which are in multi-story buildings on the west side of Manhattan, at any time, and unannounced.
Driver Christina Hansen told Sky News that each horse must get a visit from a vet at least two times a year, and that most stalls are slightly bigger than the minimum required 60 square feet.
She pointed out that every stable has a sprinkler system, although many still argue that the horses, who live on the second and third floor of the buildings which they reach by a steep ramp, would have no chance of surviving a fire.
Among vets who have actually examined the animals there is little consensus.
Equine vet Holly Cheever, who has cared for and trained draught horses and advised local authorities on legislation to protect horses, says that life in New York for the animals is survivable, but not humane.
She told Sky News "There is insufficient attention to the welfare of the horses.
"They should be able to roll and relax and stretch out and none of that happens in Manhattan."
Dr Cheever said that the horses in her experience were more likely to suffer from lameness as a result of walking on the concrete, and respiratory difficulties from working "nose to tail pipe" on busy streets.
She said that the heat in summer also posed a real danger to the animals.
But former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners Harry Werner disagrees.
He has said previously that the horses he examined were "happy", "content" and well cared for.
Writing in the New York Times he said: "It is important to recognise that horses vary greatly in their interest in and compatibility with the many tasks asked of them by their human companions.
"Not all horses will behave acceptably or thrive in an urban environment, any more than all horses would succeed on the racetrack or at rounding up cattle on a ranch."
Sky News has spoken to one vet currently involved in the inspection and regulation of the horses, but who was only willing to speak without being identified because they were not authorised to comment publicly.
That vet said the animals adapted to their environment well, adding that the New York horses don't live a "perfect existence", but the animals were no worse off than other working horses in more rural settings.
Tourism in New York is big business and the carriage rides are often a "must do" activity for visitors to the city.
There is a proposal that the drivers' licences should be transferred to electric model vintage cars, which would be driven around the park instead.
But the details of the costs and logistics of that plan are not clear, nor has the formal legislation to ban the industry been introduced.
Campaign groups say they can organise adoptive homes for the over 200 horses involved,
But the animals are privately owned, and in the event of a likely ban, their futures are uncertain.
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