The uncertain future of New York’s carriage horses has had a temporary reprieve, after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he is shelving his intention to ban horse-drawn carriages.
His efforts to ban the trade in favour of antique electric cars stalled after he admitted at a Google Hangout session that it was not a priority. Mayor de Blasio had promised in his campaign to put an end to the industry as soon as he took office in January, but has delayed that until the end of the year.
The city council is still discussing legislation to ban carriage horses, but several members oppose the idea as it will take away around 300-400 jobs. While carriage drivers and tourists want the industry to continue, developers want to use the land currently dedicated to stabling, and animal rights activists have branded the trade as inhumane.
Actor Liam Neeson has spoken out against a potential ban, calling the trade a “signature element of New York’s culture and history” which is regulated by the health and consumer affairs department with regards to veterinary care, licensing and time off. He appealed to the mayor to visit the stables and see how the horses are cared for.
Central Park carriage driver Robert Boyle told local newspapers that horses “have as much right to work as any person in New York city”, while Kieran Kelly — who emigrated to the US from Ireland — said that de Blasio is stealing his American Dream.
“It has nothing to do with horses — it’s to keep other people happy,” he said.
Carriage drivers can earn up to $250 (£150) a day. Around 150 carriages are operating in New York daily, carrying thousands of passengers through Central Park for up to $50 (£30) per 20min ride.
The trade has already been outlawed in one area in Chicago, while there have been calls for bans in Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Atlanta following deaths and injuries to horses.
American welfare organisation the Humane Society of the United States is strongly backing Mayor de Blasio’s bill.
“Carriage horses work and live in inhumane conditions,” they said in a statement. “The most recent independent audit of the New York city carriage industry by the city comptroller found that the city’s horses are not provided with enough water, risk overheating on asphalt and are forced to stand in their own waste in stables.”
Likewise, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has applauded the mayor’s stance, saying that carriage driving is incompatible with 21st century traffic and a strain on horses.
The society said that it will tap into its network of rescue partners to secure potential homes for the horses.