New York horse-drawn carriages: iconic attraction or cruel animal abuse?

An unmissable charming tourist attraction or a cruel and outdated commercial activity? New York horse-drawn carriages have been around since the 1800s, but some lawmakers now want to replace them with electric vehicles.

Recently, a video of a horse and carriage collapsing on the streets of New York has gone viral, sparking a new wave of protests against the controversial tourist attraction.

Business owners cheered, saying the industry is regulated and the animals are well cared for.

Why are people protesting New York’s horse drawn carriages?

For some, horse-drawn carriage rides around Central Park are as much a part of the Big Apple as yellow cabs and Broadway shows. But for others, the horses-for-hire are not in line with the ethos of a leading progressive city in 21st century America.

Animal rights activists have been trying to shut down the industry for years. Opponents say horses live in cramped conditions, often suffer from malnutrition and dehydration, are frightened by cars and work against their will.

“They are literally treated like machines, and they are not machines,” says Edita Birnkrant, executive director of anti-carriage group NYCLASS. “That shouldn’t be happening in New York City today.”

Last month, their protests gained momentum when a video of a collapsed horse being slapped and yelled at by its owner on busy 9th Avenue went viral.

When a spectator asks, “Why are you slapping him?” the owner replies, “Because I’m trying to pick him up.” The horse is then seen being hosed down by police officers.

It was not the first such incident. In 2020, a horse-drawn carriage horse collapsed and was euthanized in Central Park, where 45-minute rides cost over €160. In June this year, the park also saw a frightened carriage horse galloping through oncoming traffic.

Following the fall of the horse, protesters gathered in August with signs demanding “21st century horseless carriages” and labeling horses as victims of abuse.

Their requests did not fall on deaf ears.

Could electric horse-drawn carriages replace horse-drawn carriages in New York?

“Manhattan is probably the worst place in the world to work a horse, in traffic, in noise, with pollution, in terrible heat and in terrible conditions,” says New York City Council Member Robert Holden, who introduced a bill to replace animals with horseless electric cars by June 2024.

On Instagram, model Bella Hadid urged lawmakers to pass Holden’s legislation, calling the tourist rides “barbaric”.

Keith P. Plain