The union representing carriage horse drivers in New York City proposed a series of changes to the industry on Friday in response to renewed calls to ban horse carriages in the city.
The Transport Workers Union Local 100 released a “pro-horse platform” calling for better city oversight of the industry, proposing enhanced driver training, and a stable in Central Park.
“This is our platform for going forward. Transport Workers Union is very interested in protecting these blue collar jobs that help hard working New Yorkers put food on the table, pay rent, send their kids to college,” TWU spokesperson Pete Donohue said at a news conference on Friday, standing next to a carriage horse. “The union is also equally interested and invested in making sure these horses have the best care and that their health and welfare is taken care of.”
The union’s plan comes weeks after now-retired carriage horse Ryder collapsed in Hell’s Kitchen street while heading back to his stable on August 10th with his driver, Ian McKeever. A video of the collapsed horse became widespread online, causing renewed calls for banning the practice. Both the city’s health department and the Manhattan DA’s office have said they’re looking into the matter.
Queens Council Member Bob Holden has also been calling on the council to push through a bill that would replace horses with electric carriages. It has 14 cosponsors so far.
Friday, the union called on the city health department to hire a full-time equine veterinarian to check on the horses–a role the union said has gone unfilled for more than a year. That doctor, the union proposed, should be the one to approve horses to work. Currently, the industry hires its own vets for that purpose, a practice widely criticized by activists.
Patrick Gallahue, a spokesperson for the city’s health department, told Gothamist that a health department vet is “carrying out the agency’s oversight. ” He said it’s up to the owners to get the horses veterinary care. He did not clarify whether a city position exists for a veterinarian who checks on horses, or whether that position is currently vacant.
The union’s proposal also includes an updated training manual, additional training, more heat protection for the animals, and more access to water in the park. It also proposes a stable in Central Park so that the horses don’t have to walk in traffic after their shifts. The union suggests that the stable be located in a city-owned building by the 86th St. Transverse, now used as a sign manufacturing shop.
For animal rights advocacy group New Yorkers for Clean and Safe Streets, it was too little too late.
“After decades of industry-wide neglect, abuse, and cover-ups, this is nothing more than a shameless stunt to distract from their complicity in Ryder's horrific collapse,” said executive director of New Yorkers for Clean and Safe Streets Edita Birnkrant told Gothamist in a statement on Friday. “After falsely claiming the horses have been treated with exceptional care for years, they now produce a long list of laughable recommendations that only proves what we’ve been saying for years: they have *never* cared about the horses.”
Also this week, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Voters For Animal Rights, two animal rights groups, released polls that found that most New York Voters surveyed were in favor of banning the industry. The poll survey was carried out by Zogby polling, and found that 71% of likely voters in the city either strongly or somewhat supported a ban of “horse and carriage rides because of numerous charges of abuse of the horses.”
In a statement, Allie Taylor, President of Voters For Animal Rights said the findings were not surprising.
“Forcing horses to pull carriages on the busy streets of New York City is barbaric and we’re calling the City Council to swiftly pass legislation to ban horse carriages,” Taylor said.
In a statement, TWU Local 100 said Ryder’s fall was an isolated incident, and accused the group’s of exploiting the situation.
“What a surprise. A poll paid for by extremist animal rights groups – that wouldn’t even be in favor of pony rides – found that a majority of people agree with them about banning carriage-horses,” the statement read. “Ryder was a singular incident, and we welcome the ongoing investigation.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of cosponsors for a bill that would replace horses with electric carriages. It has 14 cosponsors.