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August 1994
"An Elegant Carriage Ride?"

By Laurie Jordan


On April 28, 1994, only 38 days after Mayor Giuliani signed the bill known as Local Law into effect, a carriage horse collapsed on the streets of Manhattan. It had to be euthanized by vets from the Animal Medical Center. 16 days later, on May 16th, another carriage horse collapsed and died. Why in this day and age do we have horses dying on the streets of Manhattan, and what are the regulations governing carriage horse driving? Laurie Jordan went to find out.

As I amble through Columbus Circle on an oppressively hot, hazy afternoon (the mercury reaching 91 degrees), I hear an all-too-familiar greeting. "Hey, how 'bout a carriage ride? Special today, just for you!" Yeah, right.

Like most people, at one time I would have found the invitation appealing, conjuring up images of a simple, more gracious era when a trot around Central Park in an elegant carriage would have been a refreshing diversion. But this is not the year 1725 and carriages do not belong on clamorous city streets. Although the hansom carriage may look elegant, it belies the abuse and exploitation which seems endemic to this industry.

During the pre-World War II period when there were only fifteen carriages, there was less competition. Carriages remained in the park environment. Today, there are approximately 68 carriages, about two dozen carriage owners, and a hefty increase in the number of drivers (from 266 in 1991 to 396 in 1993). Due to the greater number of motor vehicles on city streets, and lax regulations allowing carriage drivers access to Manhattan's congested areas, carriage horses are forced to compete for space with angry traffic snarls and endless exhaust fumes.

To see a carriage horse today is to see a frightened, abused animal ill-suited for life on city streets, offered little relief in filthy, water-soaked stables, smelling of ammonia and complete with rotten floor-boards. Shamrock stables on 61st and FDR should be called "Sham" stables. The dirty, poorly ventilated facility offers little peace to horses, who are by nature skittish around loud noises. The roar of traffic above the stables on the overpass of the FDR highway can be deafening. I visited the stables undercover as a "wannabe" driver, and found the conditions deplorable. Filthy and unsuitable for any form of life, the New York City Board of Health should condemn them.

New York City is known to overwork old, lame, ill-treated horses, and is the only city which does not require state driver's licenses of carriage operators, even though most are from abroad, having little familiarity with local traffic regulations.

The carriage horse industry always appealed business people, as there weren’t any laws regulating it. Few citizen complaints were made, unless extreme animal cruelty was involved. This new-found source of income was highly lucrative, especially during the World War II when gasoline was rationed, and yellow cab drivers were forced to find an alternative method of transportation.

In the late 1940s or early 50s (records are lost) New York City sold 68 medallions to a few stable owners for a fee of $100 to $200. At first, licenses were leased with the option to reclaim them in the event of a reasonable violation. This practice ceased when the licenses were being resold for substantial profit. Eventually, the value of the licenses increased along with competition, and drivers began to venture outside the park where initially they had always operated. Fares increased because drivers insisted "out of park" rides warranted higher charges. This is still practiced today. No liability insurance was required, no exams, no training, and no license until 1989 (Local Law 89 mandated licenses on a visible part of the carriage).

Carriage horses were free to operate wherever and whenever they pleased. Accidents escalated. Pedestrians and motorists were injured and horses were collapsing and dyng on city streets.

Attempts were made to pass humane laws, but to no avail. Howver, a growing number of lawsuits ensued against the city following carriage accidents. The interests of the carriage industry were represented during the late 1970's by the law firm of Manton, Dowd and Pennisi, whose main counsel was Albert J. Anastasia, Jr. --- owner of Columbus Stables, which he had inherited from his father. Thomas Manton (a staunch supporter of the carriage industry) was a City Counicl member.

Due to public pressure, the Horse Licensing & Protection Law was finally signed by Mayor Ed Koch on July 19,1981, three years after its inception. In addition to licensing horses, it imposed a paltry $25.00 licensing fee per horse, mandated minimal improvement in the condition of the stables, and established"limited" working hours of ten hours per day, seven days a weekwithout any consideration for pasture or rest periods.

The bottom line was profit. According to Mike Quinn, Manager of Chateau Stables (NY Times 8/10/81): "If it costs, you gotta make [money]... Right now we put horses on a scale and ask a vet, ‘What’s the bare minimum per body weight we can feed these horses?’ "

Tragedy occurred on July 18. 1982, when three horses collapsed and a fourth carriage horse death followed three weeks later. A bill called The Wagner Act was drawn up and a one -year, six-member advisory panel was appointed by the New York City Health Department. Accidents were ocurring with increased frequency, and stables offered little respite from the discomfort of the streets. One horse jumped from a second story window to escape the stable's heat.

In July 1983, Council Member Robert Dryfoos was applauded for introducing a bill which would restrict carriages to Central Park. Mayor Koch countered this bill (due to pressure from the highly vocal carriage industry and Thomas Manton) by introducing a less restrictive one which would limit carriage hours only in midtown during the holiday season. Both bills were relegatedto the back burner, where they remained on the legislative calendar for five years. During this period, carriage drivers were seen on one-way streets (going the wrong way), running red lights, and disregarding traffic regulations in general (not signalling when turnring, etc.). Horses were working in extreme weather conditions, on icy streets, and were whipped if they couldn't comply. (When Local Law 89 went into effect it mandated horses would not work in temperatures of above 90 degres or below 18 degrees F.)

One former driver resigned due to the abuse she witnessed during the holiday season, when drivers up the ante, and literally take out-of-town visitors for a ride (charging full fares--$34.00--for a ten minute flash of NYC). Her horse Dennis had been overworked to the point where his legs were wobbly. But the owner, Sal Spina, oblivious to the horse's condition, insisted he keep working, without a rest break, during a nine-hour day. When they finally returned to the stables, the horse was shivering and frothing at the mouth. But the driver was told to report promptlythe next morning at 8 A.M., to take the same horse out again, or she would lose her carriage. Days after she quit, she learned her horse had died.

"Horses are fed only oats, the cheapest we can find," she attested. No fresh fruit or vegetables are offered to the carriage horses unless individual drivers bring their own. Horses are herbivores and need variation in their diets or they can develop colic (acute spasms and abdominal pain) which can lead to death.

In May 1988, Robert Dryfoos introduced another bill comprised of two former ones. Legislation protecting the horses remained lax.
That August, two horses collapsed of heatstroke and dehydration. One, Misty, was euthenized. The other became an embarrassing national symbol of cruelty. For the next nine months, enraged citizens demanded passage of the Dryfoos Bill, which would limit hours and areas of operation. An editorial in the Daily News read "if torturing an animal on Fifth Avenue is a tourist attraction, the tourists must be Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Huns."

On May 31, 1989 a first hearing was called one year after the Dryfoos Bill was introduced. During the four ensuing hearings, carriage drivers rioted, obstructed propety, and damaged furniture. They physically and verbally threatened proponents of the bill (including celebrities and even Dryfoos himself), charging that the industry was becoming too regulated. In truth, it was the least regulated in the country.

That Fall, favoring more restrictive legislation, Speaker Peter Vallone made impassioned speeches and quoted Gandhi, proclaiming: "The worth of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals."

Mayor Koch vetoedthe Dryfoos Bill (his campaign had been backed by Thomas`Manton), but for the first time in twenty years, the City Council overrode a Mayor's veto and enacted the Bill by a vote of 28-4. This became Local Law 89. Unenlightened Council member Noach Dear (not "dear" to the carriage horses, he is set against any regulation of the industry), and three other council members were absent. Theirs were the four "No" votes. (Editorial note: please see the enclosed framework of LL89.)

Immediately, drivers rebelled and petitioned a two-week stay, subsequently filing a $415 million lawsuit against The Carriage Horse Action Committee and the ASPCA. The time consuming suit detained the passage of another bill (as was intended) and accruedexpensive legal costs.

Although five agencies were chosen to enforce LL 89, there was still little enforcement. Carriages were seen in restricted areas, especially in the theatre district before curtain up, and horses were still living and working in deplorable conditions. Although under this ruling drivers were permitted to operate with four passengers, there were often up to six and sometimes passengers could be seen sitting — illegally — in front with the driver. If horses were seen in midtown traffic during rush hour, drivers simply said they were bringing them back to their West Side stables. Due to loopholes in the law, drivers could often be seen in restricted areas with their carriages. When citizens pointed out violations, drivers became insolent and threatening.

Summonses were repeatedly "lost" or disregarded in city agencies, to the degree that police officers stopped trying to enforce regulations, feeling it was a waste of their time. Many officers were not even aware that laws existed protecting carriage horses and thought (incorrectly) that city horses were accustomed to traffic and noise — and so didn’t issue carriage horse violations.

In May 1990, only five months after LL89 was enacted, three accidents occurred. One, due to faulty harnessing, ended in a wild police chase to stop a panicked horse. Another involve an unattended horse at Grand Army Plaza, resulting in four wrecked yellow cabs and a hospitalized cab driver. The third took place on May 15,1990, when a carriage horse named Tony met a tragic fate, being hit repeatedly by a bus. The bus driver (Metro Apple) forced his vehicle upon Tony while weaving in and out and fighting for a lane during rush hour.

A Ms. Young, who was driving the carriage behind Tony's, said in her deposition: "The bus started to overtake them...weaved in and out of the right lane, got too close and struck the horse's head with its right side...the bus continued to move as the horse continued to get struck and finally went down, losing its footing in the ashfalt, until it spooked, screamed and fell to its death under the bus." She added that the bus appeared to be "playing" with the carriage.

No one was charged with any violation, not of traffic laws, nor Local Law 89, nor cruelty to animals.

Tony and one-half of the carriage horses were owned by an Air Lingus pilot who resided in Ireland. Tony was disposed of in a landfill. The Metro Apple bus passengers were one hour late in returning home that evening. It was back to business as usual.

Still, proponents of LL89 felt there had been some progress. The merits of LL89--fewer accidents, traffic tie-ups in midtown, and less abuse to horses--were being played down by the carriage industry, and attempts were being made to eliminate it. Although 95% of practicing vets and veterinary scholls were in favor of LL89, this had little impact and was largely ignored when a less restrictive but ridiculously complicated (to the degree that it would have been impossible to enforce) bill (int. 410-A) was introduced.

Mayor Dinkins vetoed the bill, saying it would place carriages in environmentally impacted areas, which neither he nor the EPA would approve. There was also the unstated threat of a major loss of federal transportation dollars if NYC traffic was further impaired.

Even with an outrageous lack of enforcement, carriage drivers still complained that the law was hurting them economically and that ridership was done. Noach Dear (soon to be Chairman of the Committee on Transportation) called an oversight meeting to "examine the Economic impact imposed on carriage owners by LL89." In truth, it was during the recession and all industry was affected. Interestingly., there were more carriage drivers than ever.

On August 13, 1993, Speaker Peter Vallone vowed to renew regulations on the horse and carriage industry and to extend LL89 to December 31,1993. Although his bill (797-A) was introduced, he didn't want it publicized until after the elections on November 2. This would allow only a few weeks for hearings which normally took months.

Mayor Dinkens vetoed Int. 806-A in December of 1993, saying he did not wish to pass any law which would add to the horses' burden or further congest the city. He expected the council to initiate more favorable legislation before Mayor-elect Rudolph Giuliani took office.

Incidents of abuse were cited, although carriage horse drivers insistedthey did not overwork or exploit their horses. In one of the most brutal winters, from late December through mid-January, horses were not blanketed and left to stand outdoors daily while drivers were obserbved intoxicated, sitting huddled with blankets in the backs of carriages, drinking brandy or hot coffee to keep them warm in sub-freezing temperatures.

When pedestrians or motorists approached carriage drivers with valid complaints, such as observing more than four passengers in a carriage, or watching a driver whip a horse that had skidded on icy streets, they were met with obscene gestures, rhetoric, threats, and responses such as "We're free from your ------------ laws."

Many more maneuverings, meetings and hearings led to the expiration of LL89. It was replaced with a much more lenient Int.28-A which is "LL2." Proponents of LL89 consider LL2 a fraud offering little protection for the horses. It was in fact nothing more than a concession to the budget and carriage industry, certainly not humane legislaton, the idea being "some law is better than no law."

Although in his campaign, Mayor-elect Giuliani had promised to support humane legislation for carriage horses, like his predecessor Mayor Dinkens, he reneged with the backing of Council Member Thomas Manton, and replaced LL89 with Int.28-A (LL 2).

On April 21, 1994, only 38 days after LL2 was signed into effect, a carriage horse collapsed and was euthenized by vets from the Animal Medical Center. On May 6, 1994, 16 days later, another carriage horse collapsed and died. No necropsy was performed in either case, but a diagnosis indicated poor horse management (poor feeding routines, lack of water, inadequate medical attention and stabling practices).

Some blamed it on "tying-up" syndrome, which is an extreme cramping of the rear legs, which can cause them to collapse, leading to the horse's death. Tying-up syndrome can occur in well-maintained stables, but generally happens in horses that are poorly cared for. If the horse has not been warmed up before working all day (long hours without break periods in cold weather), this condition can occur. Summer months cause other problems.

Fluid and electrolyte disorders are major factors in the development of exhauston disease syndrome. When working horses are not given enough water, their body temperatures become dangerously high. Sweat rates may approach 10 to 12 litres per hour with prolonged exercise.

Horses must have access to water in hot environmrnts. A sedentary hay-fed horse is said to take in 18-27 quarts of water daily. Carriage horses are not sedentary. Unlike a dog, a horse will not rest when it becomes fatigued or dehydrated. It still continues to do as its master beckons. Is it any wonder horses become exhausted and collapse on city streets?

Horses are not the only innocent victims of the industry. Two-legged animals are also affected. In September of 1985, four elderly women, all retired school teachers, were catapulted from their carriage when their horse, frightened by the panic and noise of a horse carriage behind them that had been hit by a speeding car, also bolted into the intersection, and collided with a limosine, ending up on the hood before falling to the street.

All the women returned home to Boston in wheelchairs and slings. No one was compensated for medical or court costs which none of them could afford. One of the ladies is going blind (in one eye) due to severe trauma to the head. The judge ruled the incident "an act of God" due to the fact that the horse had no previous record of dangerous propensities. This is only one case of many, and usually the victims are not compensated, no matter how severe their injuries.

It is ironic that in a city known to have the worst traffic congestion in the nation, carriage drivers are allowedto have such freedom in highly congested areas. Other cities such as Chicago and L.A. employ limited hours and specific routes, some only during prescribed times of the year. How many more accidents must occur before tougher legislation is enacted?

The next time I hear that all-too-familiar greeting, "Hey lady, can I offer you a carriage ride? Special today..." etc. etc., I’ll make sure I say loudly and clearly, "No thanks. I’d rather walk. It's better for my health and the horse's."

To express your concern, please write to Mayor Giuliani's office: The City of New York, Office of the Mayor, New York, NY 10007 and/or to City Council Speaker Peter Vallone.

Thanks to Peggy Parker of the "Carriage Horse Action Committee" for invaluable information.

The writer has been an animal advocate for eight years and has been a vegetarian for nine. She teaches a group of ten-year-olds who believe that "carriage horses deserve our helping hands."

To find out more about this issue, contact The Carriage Horse Action Committee (CHAC), in New York City: (212) 724-4414.


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