12 July

Here Comes The Carriage Horse Ban: Government By Donation

by Jon Katz
Government By Donation
Government By Donation

When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he said the first thing he would do is ban the carriage horses. But then, he told a press conference this week, he just got too busy dealing with city and state budget issues. Now that these issues are  behind him, he told  surprised reporters, he is going to return to a series of other priorities, including banning the horse carriage trade from New York City.

“I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again, I think we need to ban horse carriages in New York City and we’re going to act accordingly,” he said. The ban would come through the City Council, talks to do that are underway, he said. “I believe it’s something we have to do.”

I found the mayor’s comments disheartening, if not unexpected. New York is our greatest stage, the mayor refuses this opportunity to have a genuine conversation about the future of animals in cities and in our world, and also about the true nature of real animals. What is abuse and mistreatment? What do they really need? Who speaks for them? Is is appropriate to abuse and mistreat people in the name of protecting animals?

It seems to me that people who love animals would be eager to discuss ways of keeping them safely with us, rather than banning them from our midst. It seems doubtful we will ever get to have that conversation, not with this mayor.

Every since he took office in January the idea of banning the carriage horses has provoked enormous comment and controversy, from Liam Neeson’s challenge to the animal rights understanding of horses to polls showing little or no support for the ban among New Yorkers, to behaviorists, veterinarians and trainers who say the horses are content and well cared for, to anguished pleas, petitions, essays and comments from horse and other animal lovers all over the country who believe the ban is a mistake. If the mayor heard or saw any of those comments – 66 per cent of New Yorkers oppose the ban, along with the Central Park Conservancy, The Chamber of Commerce, The Teamsters Union, the New York Post, New York Daily News, and New York Times  – he has never acknowledged it, discussed it, reflected upon it.

Political observers doubt most New Yorkers care very deeply whether the horses remain in the city or not, or that most would base their votes on whether the ban was executed or not. “If the horses are gone, people will forget about them in six months,” one City Council member told some of his constituents. I can’t say if that is so or not, I know that animal lovers all over the country are following the story closely and are deeply concerned about the idea that horses can only exist on rescue farms or that work for animals is abuse.

I do not know what the mayor’s true motives are, but his erratic and utterly incoherent statements about the horse carriage’s suggest that this is simply what most New Yorkers think it is – a question of power and money. It is hard to imagine why a mayor with so many pressing concerns would so doggedly pursue such a poorly grounded and unpopular  move unless he really had no choice – he just got too much money from the animals rights groups in this campaign to walk away from it.

The mayor speaks of the issue only in short and inarticulate blurbs like those at this week’s press conference. He refuses to speak with the carriage owners, visit the drivers or the stables, or even recognize the people in the carriage trade as human beings who deserve consultation about the loss of their livelihood,  their fate and future. The dehumanization of the carriage trade people is one of the ugliest and most disturbing elements in the campaign against the horses, especially from a mayor who labels himself a progressive.

It seems the mayor is also determined to push ahead with a plan to replace the horses with vintage electric cars, which will cost about $160,000 apiece. If New Yorkers are united behind the idea of keeping the horses, they are even more horrified at the thought of flooding Central Park with more cars. Only the mayor seems to think cars are more eco-friendly than horses.

There are also plans, according to the media, to take the horses away from the carriage owners and require that they only be sold to farms and preserves where it is guaranteed that they will never work. This issue will not be resolved for some time, it will surely end up in the courts. What a waste of money and opportunity for a real discussion about animals that would be.

It is known that the mayor’s teenage daughter first awakened him to the carriage horse issue after viewing animal rights websites online, and that the mayor has never lived with an animal, not even a dog or a cat. In the campaign, he described himself as a “proud supporter” of the animal rights movement, perhaps it is as simple as that. The mayor has every right to pursue a carriage trade ban if that is what he sincerely believes is right, he is also morally obligated to explain his reasoning, and to meet with the people most directly affected.

They have broken no law, violated no regulation, committed no crimes. If their work and way of life are to be taken from them, they are entitled to talk about it with their elected officials.

It has never been clear what the mayor really thinks about the carriage horses, he refuses to talk about it. It is known that NYClass and other animal rights groups pushing the carriage ban helped him win election with generous and timely campaign contributions. Political reporters in New York City believe the mayor has no choice but to pursue the ban to the end, he based much of his election on banning the horses.

“He’s just stuck,” a political reporter told me,” there is no way for him but to introduce the ban and let the chips fall where they may. Nobody expects the courts to uphold a carriage horse ban, there is no legal basis to ban an industry that has done nothing wrong and is already one of the most heavily regulated in the city. It’s just for face, more political theater to keep the animal rights crazies off of his back.”

Maybe so. More uncertain and unsettling times for the carriage trade, I believe the horses in New York are awakening animal lovers every to the great issues that surround this story, especially this one: animals have the right to survive in our world, and we need to share the world with them. The horses call us to a wiser and more mystical understanding of animals.


My e-book “Who Speaks For The Carriage Horses: The Future Of Animals In Our World” will be published this coming week everywhere digital books are sold.

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