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In a move that’s sure to stir up controversy, the Central Park Horses have returned to Hell’s Kitchen and are ready to get back to work in the Park from tomorrow.
The Daily News reports this morning that the horses will make a comeback this weekend after a six-month furlough during the pandemic. The carriages will offer free tours to first responders and healthcare workers. Owners are promising that the carriages will be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized between every ride and that drivers will get a rapid coronavirus test each day before heading to work.
Initially, there will be just a dozen horse carriages, and it’s unclear whether they will be coming from the Clinton Stables on W52nd Street between 11/12th Avenues or the stables down in the mid-30s near the Javits Center. There are usually around 200 carriage horses in the city, mostly in Hell’s Kitchen.
“The lights are going to come back on in New York City, and we are going to be a part of it,” driver Colm McKeever, a 31-year veteran, told the Daily News yesterday. “This is a great moment of hope. There’s a symbolism to seeing a horse-drawn carriage going down the street. It’s really exciting for the city, I think, for all of New York.
“It’s been dark old days for a while now, and it’s an exciting business. People need to see the city coming back. And once the ball starts to roll, don’t ever count New York down. That ball’s not going to stop.”
“With everything else canceled — the Rockettes, Broadway, no Macy’s Parade, no Times Square ball drop — we can at least be the one, real, non-virtual New York City Christmas tradition still open,” said Christina Hansen, carriage driver and spokesperson for Historic Horse-Drawn Carriages of Central Park.
National Geographic reported in March of this year about a 12-year-old carriage horse named Aisha collapsing in Central Park. Video of the incident showed her struggling to stand before crumpling. A trailer arrives to take her away to be put down.
The Central Park Carriage Horses have been a source of controversy for many years. The issue has been a significant one in Mayor de Blasio’s re-election when he promised to remove them from the Park. The proposed ban had been welcomed by animal activists, but never happened. The horse owners claim that the political opposition is fueled by property developers wanting to buy the land and build high rise apartments in the area.