Steven Nislick is the 70-year-old real estate developer and animal activist most responsible for the mayor’s proposed ban on the New York Carriage Horses and he recently sat for a revealing interview with a reporter from Capital News, a political newswire. He was joined by Wendy Neu, his partner in the fight against horse carriages, and his employer. About three months ago, Nislick left his successful garage and real estate business and became chief financial officer for Hugo Neu Corporation, the recycling and industrial real estate company run by Ms. Neu. The two also run New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYClass), the organization working to ban horse-drawn carriages, and that funneled enormous amounts of money into Mayor deBlasio’s successful campaign. Nislick is the president. Neu is on the board. She has never ridden a horse, she says, or visited the horse stables, but is caring for 48 feral cats and loves all animals.
In the interview with Dana Rubinstein, Nislick says he dates his interest in horses back to the 1980’s when he first started owning some. He has, he says, occasionally taken part in in an equine sport called “eventing,” which the United States Eventing Association describes as an “equestrian triathlon” involving show-jumping, dressage and endurance riding. A 2012 article in Time Magazine described eventing as a “sport enjoyed frequently by the wealthy and sometimes even by royalty,” and is “perhaps the most dangerous sport in the Summer Olympics – to both horse and rider.”
I was struck by the reference to “eventing,” an equine sport I recognized to be controversial and the cause of many horse injuries and deaths. It has also been the target of many animal rights groups. Could this really be the chosen sport of the man who believes it is abuse for an 1,800 pound draft horse to pull a light carriage through Central Park? I could find no mention of the sport’s details in any of the countless stories about Nislick and the carriage horse ban or in his biographical data. I did read that he was an equine sportsman.
The people in the carriage trade say they are aware of Nislick’s involvement with eventing competitions, but the media has shown little or no interest in reporting or exploring it. The interview prompted me to do some research and some reporting, and I will admit that I was almost disbelieving of what I found:
Olympic equestrian sport, says one equine website, “is not your usual weekend horseback stroll through the park” (like a carriage ride literally is.) It is a test of performance skills as rider and horse are put through their paces in the three difficult events. During the jumping and eventing, the horses are often tested to the limit – and frequently injured – by racing over and around various obstacles and wildly varying terrain. Nislick’s NYClass – his carriage horse attack unit – puts up fund-raising photos of allegedly abused and injured horses almost daily, some not even from New York. I wonder why the website which is so concerned about horse abuse hasn’t included the many horrific videos and stories on You Tube of horses injured during eventing competition.
You can see some of those videos here on Yahoo. You can see more videos on You Tube of horses injured during Olympic and other eventing competitions – more disturbing, I warn you, than anything that NYClass has put up to raise so much money over the bodies of horses for political campaigning. They might well have the caption “Stop Horse Abuse.” A handful of New York carriage horses have been killed or injured in millions of rides, at least they provided hundreds of jobs, received save haven as discarded farm horses, and have given much joy for millions of city residents, tourists, children and lovers. What did the eventing horses and people fall and die for?
Time called eventing a competition that had caused many injuries to people and horses and taken the lives of both.
Said Time of “eventing”: “The sport has claimed a spot in Olympic competition since 1912, yet its risks have been a point of ongoing controversy. Unusually deadly periods of rider deaths worldwide, including 12 in a year-and-a-half between 2007 and 2008, caused even those at the heart of the sport to voice ambivalence about its hazards. In 2008, the president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) warned that equestrian sports might not make it into the London 2012 Games. The International Olympic Committee “has very reasonable and legitimate concerns about eventing safety,” she told Britain’s Horse and Hound magazine. “Walking away and saying ‘Thank God nobody died,’ isn’t good enough.”
Working online, I found three cases in minutes – one in New Jersey, one in Georgia, another in California – where more horses died in weekend eventing competitions than died in the past 30 years of the carriage trade. In the Jersey Fresh 3-Day Event alone, three horses were killed in 2011. In the past 30 years, three carriage horses have died in New York City traffic accidents. At least 20 horse riders have been killed outside of Olympic events in eventing competitions since 2000, according to the United States Equestrian Federation.
In the interview, Nislick was not questioned about what seems on the surface to be a stunning and seemingly unreported hypocrisy. I am not into banning horses in sport or work, but it is surreal to claim the carriage horses are a danger when one is part of a sport where animals and people get hurt all of the time.
I can find no reference to his equine sporting activities in any of the hundreds of thousands of stories about the carriage horse controversy. Nislick has apparently repeatedly endangered horses for sport, but finds it immoral and cruel for them to work with people in safety and good care. It’s okay for the rich and royalty to use horses as toys, I suppose, but not for the sons and daughters and grandchildren of immigrants to use them for sustenance and freedom.
In this interview, Nislick concedes that he has never been to a carriage horse stable or talked to a driver, but, he said, he and his wife (they both nurture baby peregrine falcons outside of his apartment windows) walk by the horses in Central Park all the time, and the horses, they believe, look unhappy. This is his only stated justification anywhere for this painful and unnecessary controversy. Nislick’s walks seem to be the primary foundation, research and cause for his long and bitter effort to drive the horses from New York – and endanger the horses and the jobs of hundreds of people – and the reasoning behind the mayor’s ban. If either he or the mayor has any other evidence or data to offer, they have not shared it.
I would like to ask him this: Mr. Nislick, how can you reconcile your claim that is unsafe and dangerous for the carriage horses to work in New York City when only a handful of carriage horses have been injured or killed in 150 years and no human being has been killed when you participate in an equine sport that killed 12 human beings and and injured and killed an unknown number of horses in a single two-year period? Isn’t driving a horse through Central Park safer than the equine triathlon? (Or the police mounted unit?).
The interview is valuable, it helps us finally understand the foundation for this jihad against the carriage trade, a puzzle to so many people in and outside of New York. There is none. It is even more shallow and irrational that it first appears.
In the Capital news interview, Ms. Neu proudly demonstrates her knowledge of horses and animals. She says that “[animals] experience much the same feelings that we have, whether it’s depression, sadness, fear, anxiety, all those things. I don’t care whether it’s a dog or cat or a rabbit or a horse or a gorilla. … It is our responsibility to ensure that they don’t suffer. That’s my biggest goal in life, is I can’t tolerate suffering.” Her goals are selective, she certainly can tolerate the suffering of the carriage drivers. She’s even proud to cause it.
One of the most striking elements in the carriage trade controversy is the belief, so often expressed by the animal advocates in the city, that horses experience “all those things,” and are just like people and have the same feelings and emotions as we do.
To people with even a minimal knowledge of animals, this is both irrational and demeaning to both people and animals. Horses do not have the intelligence of human beings, they don’t have tools, invent drama and the Internet, promote democracy, there is absolutely no evidence that they experience human emotions in the way that people do. Rabbits and gorillas are not like people either, they are animals.
They have no conscience, vocabulary, ambition, they do not steal for wealth or try and possess it, they are not aware of their own impending deaths, they do not have the ability to construct the narratives – love, ambition, change, betrayal, fear of death – that mark the life and mind of a human being. They are an alien and wonderful species, they are not like us.
There is nothing more dangerous or destructive for animals than for well-meaning and arrogant people to presume they are just like us because we love them, and that “rescuing” them is an express ticket to heaven and superiority.
And if, for one second, we accepted Nislick and Neu’s foolish and completely unsupportable premise, then I would ask her this question: If horses really are just like people, why is it cruel for them to work? Almost every human being strives to work in one sense or another, if they are just like us, why should this be denied them if it is not denied us?
The people seeking to banish the horses from New York City are long on accusations and short on facts and evidence. Nislick says he has never been to a carriage stable, Ms. Neu says she has never ridden a horse but is caring for 48 feral cats. Their campaign would be a joke if they hadn’t spent a truckload of cash to snare themselves the first big city mayor to ever join their cause. A philosopher once said that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Facts, not opinions, tell the true story of the carriage trade.
The Nislick interview was interesting, professional and thorough yet still striking for it’s failure – the New York media shun experts in favor of arguments – to consult or interview with a single animal or equine expert beyond the indefatigable Carriage Horse spokesperson Christina Hansen, who was offered a few lines of response and said Nislick and Neu were rich elitists who knew nothing about horses and were contemptuous of working people like the carriage drivers. It seems from this interview that there is something to that.
At the end of the interview, Nislick and Neu revealed their purpose for making themselves available to Rubinstein for the interview:
“I hope after just spending some time with us, that you can see the sincerity and the authenticity that’s here, and that we’re not going to stop with just this issue either,” said Neu.
It seemed to me that their sincerity and authenticity is revealed quite clearly, and animal and horse lovers might also wish that they do not stop with this issue, but will move on to help the horses that are truly suffering and abused. There are many all over the country, but there do not seem to be any in New York.