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When I was young, I saved all my money in the hope that one day I would have enough money to buy a horse. I never received an allowance because my parents thought that helping around the house was part of family life, and I was not allowed to work because it was my “job” to go at school. But I was sometimes allowed to babysit, and I kept the $5 an hour I earned in a little pink chest in my closet. My family still teases me about my “horse money”.
I may never have my own horse, but I appreciate these magnificent creatures. To this day, I smile knowingly and nod at the police horses and carriage horses I see working in New York. In a city of diverse characters, they are part of our unique community.
So I was surprised to learn that the carriage horses that have helped cultivate budding romances and created magical moments for tourists for over 150 years could be replaced by electric vehicles.
The history of New York horse-drawn carriages
It’s almost impossible to separate Central Park from horse-drawn carriage rides. When the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park opened to the public in 1858, horse-drawn carriage tours became the fashionable way to see this lush oasis carved out of the urban environment.
The wealthy had their own horses and vehicles, but almost immediately an industry was started to support those of other classes and, of course, the tourists who flocked to New York. Capturing public demand, the City Council even approved a bar exemption on Sunday hack licenses and let horse-drawn carriages park at the South Entrance of Central Park at 59and Street and 6and Avenue, from 1862. While it was the Sabbath day for many New Yorkers, it was also the only day the lower and middle classes took time off from work, and they wanted as much as anyone who else to take leisurely carriage rides.
The first all-tourist carriage ride took off in 1863. Today, some cars use licenses passed down from the original Central Park cabs. These rides remain a popular way to see beloved Central Park sights such as the Bethesda Fountain, Belvedere Castle, and Strawberry Fields.
Arguments for and against horse-drawn carriages
It’s not about technology
While concerns about the transition from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles have centered on battery life and the need for infrastructure for charging stations, the debate over whether to use horseless eCarriages instead of maintaining the traditional carriage ride has less to do with the available technology. Animal advocates argue that the mean streets of New York City are no place for a horse. Although they have been used on battlefields, in rodeos and in dressage, horses are creatures that scare more easily than a New York pigeon.
In September 2021, a horse named Chief who was finishing his first day of carriage pulling in Manhattan was so scared when the “diaper extender” he was wearing, which had come loose, accidentally touched his legs that he ran straight into a parked car. He was unconscious for several minutes and suffered several lacerations, one of which required stitches. It was later reported that the chef was “doing fine”.
In February 2020, a carriage horse named Aisha was not so lucky. The horse collapsed and was later euthanized. This caused outrage on social media. Aisha had had two physicals the year before, and the vet who performed the autopsy confirmed the horse was in “good condition” when she died. The cause of death was a genetic disease.
There are approximately 200 carriage horses in New York City, and over a two-year period there have been 20 collisions involving horses.
The horse-drawn carriage industry is highly regulated
Car drivers, on the other side of the question, say incidents like the ones above are only newsworthy because of their rarity. They maintain that they have a deep connection with the horses that pull their buggies and that they take precautions to care for the animals and ensure their well-being.
The industry is also heavily regulated by New York City law. Horses cannot work more than nine hours a day and are not put to work in temperatures above 89°F or below 19°F. Each year, they go on at least five weeks of vacation in a stable.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Veterinary Medical Association and New York State Veterinary Medical Society have each endorsed the industry, according to Carriage On, a blog run by carriage driver Christina Hansen for Historic Horse Drawn Carriages of Central. Park.
Horse welfare is a frequently asked question for NYC Carriage Rides, established in 1979. The family business says, “We treat our horses like family, and I can assure you they are probably the horses the most spoiled in the world. They are entitled to daily grooming and new shoes approximately every six weeks.
Are motor vehicles the real danger?
Some claim that it is the cars that cause the danger. Horses spend little time on streets that have carriages. Other than a few designated areas that allow transportation across the city and motor vehicles used by the New York Police Department and other officials, cars are not permitted in Central Park.
Along Manhattan’s sidewalks, it’s not uncommon to see “ghost bikes” – bikes that have been painted white and left near the scene where a cyclist was fatally killed. A Department of Transportation (DOT) report shows that in 2020 there were 5,175 bicyclist injuries, including 24 fatalities, in crashes involving motor vehicles. The number was even higher for pedestrians: 6,495 pedestrians were injured, including 96 fatalities, in collisions involving motor vehicles.
Speaking of the loss of the horse that collapsed in Central Park in 2020, then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “At the same time the horse collapsed in Central Park, I was on Pennsylvania Avenue in Brownsville to talk about two young children who were hit and killed by vehicles. He criticized: “People were talking about the worry about the horse collapsing, but they really ignored the fact that we lost two babies in our community.”
Horseless electric cars
What other cities are doing
While horses are banned from pulling cars in cities around the world, some places have gotten inventive and turned to horseless electric cars – a more relaxing choice than a Segway.
- In 2017, Guadalajara, Mexico began rolling out electric cars to replace horse-drawn ones. Designed by Advanced Power Vehicles, they run on a 10 horsepower electric motor and can reach up to 25 kilometers per hour. The battery lasts about 45 kilometers.
- In 2019, horse-drawn carriages were banned for at least three months on Turkey’s Princes’ Islands. A draft report favored the use of electric cars over horses.
- In 2020, Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, swapped its horse-drawn carriages for electric horse-drawn carriages. They can reach a speed of 20 kilometers per hour. One charge lasts 50 kilometers.
Electric New York
New York City is a neon dreamscape. This is where air conditioning, Sweet’n Low, the remote control and, of course, the charcoal pizza were invented. Death-defying skyscrapers pierce the sky as engineers and architects have battled over the years to build the tallest skyscrapers in the world, claiming victory with the Empire State Building and then the World Trade Center . Real estate agents and restaurant workers auditioned and found their way to Broadway.
Anything is possible in New York – even a future of robot horses, self-driving carriage rides and electric cars.
Bill de Blasio had promised to ban New York horse-drawn carriages on his first day as mayor, and it was something he continued to push eight years later during his final weeks in office, with plans to replace them with “horseless electric cars”. ”
Adams, who was sworn in as mayor of New York just after midnight on Jan. 1, 2022, is a vegan who doesn’t support the ban but is open to discussing it.
It took decades for the Second Avenue subway to even be partially operational, and while it won’t take as long for electric cars to replace horses, hansom taxis help New York’s tourism industry – and the city works with money.
“We love horses. We don’t want to drive carriages without horses,” says carriage driver Hansen. “Who wants electric stuff in Central Park? We are already dealing with electric bicycles, electrified pedicabs, electric motor scooters and mountain bikes.
Image credit: Stephanie Nikolopoulos