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Video of a grounded horse in Central Park has reignited debate over the future of horse carriage rides in New York — with carriage drivers and opponents of the practice gearing up for a new battle. 

The video supplied by NYCLASS shows a carriage horse on the ground in Central Park. Video supplied NYCLASS

Carriage horses work in Central Park, but live in Hell’s Kitchen — at both the Clinton Stables on W52nd between 11th and 12th Avenues, and W38th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue, opposite the Javits Center. But while some locals enjoy seeing the workhorses commute to their posts in the park, others argue it is high time to end the New York tradition, in place since before the Civil War. 

The clip, shared by New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), shows a carriage horse named Luciana on the ground and being pulled up by two men. According to Executive Director of NYCLASS Edita Birnkrant, a tourist reported the video to a PETA hotline, and the animal welfare watchdog group passed it on to NYCLASS. The widely circulated video has sparked outrage among animal advocates and local City Council Members — whose votes have the power to determine the 164-year-old industry’s future. 

“This cruelty has no place in a modern society. It’s time to end this practice in New York City, once and for all,” tweeted District 3 City Council Member Erik Bottcher, whose area covers the West Side stables.

Former Manhattan Borough President and current City Council Member Gale Brewer (whose district covers Central Park) also tweeted: “I am horrified by the video circulating of a horse being abused by a handler in Central Park after it collapsed. I have been in touch with DOHMH’s Bureau of Animal Affairs and they are investigating. I have supported efforts to regulate this industry and protect horses.”

In a tweet, New York State Assemblymember Linda B Rosenthal said: “Animal cruelty has no place in New York City. Time and time again, we have seen carriage horses injured and abused on our streets. In 2011, I introduced legislation to ban carriage horses in NYC. Clearly, the industry remains just as cruel today.” 

A carriage horse working in Central Park this week. Photo: Phil O’Brien

But fierce debate raged over the length and context of the video. NYCLASS alleged that it took place over the course of an hour — a claim contested by Christina Hansen, spokesperson for Central Park carriage drivers and herself a driver. W42ST was given a copy of the original video, which lasts 56 seconds — and has not discovered any other film record of the incident despite extensive online research.

“I actually drove by, I knew this was going on,” said Hansen. “You can see me in the video driving past with a white buggy and the spotted horse. The whole thing was two to three minutes at most.” 

While many assumed the horse was being forced up to work, Hansen explained the animal was being treated for a medical emergency due to colic, a form of gastrointestinal distress that is “the most common kind of ailment that a horse can have.” 

“It is the leading cause of death of horses besides old age,” said Hansen. “Horse people live our whole lives worrying about colic — fortunately our horses very rarely get it, because of the way we manage our animals here in the city, but this particular horse was out on her first day at the park being trained and this happened immediately upon her arrival at the park. Her owner and another driver, a long time carriage driver, who both have decades of experience in the carriage business, did everything they were supposed to do to save her life and get her to veterinary treatment.” 

Hansen said getting a horse with colic off of the ground is critical, because without treatment the animals are at risk of a twisted or impacted bowel that can kill. 

Other trainers disagreed with the method used by the drivers to stand the horse up. Kim Clouse, owner of North Jersey Equestrian told W42ST via NYCLASS: “I’ve been a horse trainer and instructor for 25 years. Under no circumstance is it OK to kick, pull the tail or pull the head of a horse that is down and in distress. The correct procedure would be to comfort the horse and gently try and coax her to her feet. This horse was in obvious distress, and kicking and pulling on her was not going to alleviate her distress, only increase it.” 

Hansen countered that the video does not depict either the driver or the owner kicking the horse, and that pulling a horse’s tail to get them up is necessary in emergency circumstances. 

“By hanging onto her tail, you keep her from rolling all the way over, which could cause a twist in her guts,” said Hansen. “It also keeps her from shimmying around to the point that when the trailer arrives, you’re not gonna be able to get her up and on the trailer because now her feet are pointed uphill and she’s stuck — so that’s what he’s doing”. Luciana was quickly treated for the condition, is fully recovered and now doing well, she added.

Luciana was quickly treated for the condition — photographed the next day at the W38th Street stables. Photo supplied Christina Hansen

The video also raised questions about veterinarian Dr Camilo Sierra, who is assigned to care for Central Park horses. Dr Sierra, who Hansen says was called to the scene to assist Luciana, has faced suspension by the New York State Education Department for previously prescribing Albuterol to a horse without proper examination of the animal

“We’re disappointed that this city would allow a vet like this to have any kind of credibility,” said Birnkrant. “Dr Sierra has a history of illegal, harmful behavior to horses. As of now, there has not been any other vet to check out this horse. It seems as if the city is just relying on his approval that this horse is okay, but we do not. We do not take anything that he says seriously at this point, because he is a disgraced veterinarian.” 

Birnkrant also cited a 2020 incident in which Central Park horse Aysha collapsed and later died of polysaccharide storage myopathy, a genetic disease in horses that effects how food is converted to energy and stored in the muscles. Dr Sierra was consulted on the case and stated that the horse’s death was not due to neglect or abuse. Birkrant and NYCLASS argue the disease should have been caught with proper genetic screening. 

The Central Park Carriage Horses are a common sight in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien

NYCLASS is calling for Dr Sierra’s removal as the veterinarian to the Central Park carriage horses as well as a ban on horse carriages. In a rally on Thursday, Birnkrant stated, “We want this vet removed from ever looking at another horse, and we also want Speaker Adrienne Adams to get these horses off of the streets.” 

Hansen said that this was the first she had heard of any allegations against Dr Sierra and couldn’t comment on the specifics of the 2016 incident, adding: “This is related to the gaming commission, has nothing to do with our horses, Dr Sierra’s vet license or his ability to practice veterinary medicine.” Hansen also noted that there is another vet who treats the carriage horses, Dr Dennis Farrell.

While 26 of the 51 New York City Council members would need to vote in favor of banning the practice to move forward, Birnkrant argued that public support for a ban was picking up pace. Former Mayor Bill DeBlasio promised a ban on his first day in office, which, as of nine years later, has yet to materalize. However, in 2019 the City Council approved the Carriage Horse Heat Relief Bill, which bans horses from working in high temperatures as determined by the equine heat index. 

“We have some support in the Council,” said Birnkrant. “We’ve had two council members retweet it —Council Member Bob Holden and  Council member Kristen Richardson Jordan both saying, ‘We need to ban this already.’ We have had a lot of verbal and behind the scenes support from council members who agree that this needs to end. We need to find a way to phase these horses off of the streets.”

Horses line up to give rides around Central Park. Photo: Phil O’Brien

Hansen countered that not everyone’s interest in the issue was tied to animal welfare. “It’s not about the horses. It’s whether or not the stables are in the way of real estate development,” she said. “It would be more convenient for the real estate developers [to purchase the space].” 

She argued that horses looked after by Central Park carriage drivers receive better care than most. “The average horse population in America does not have 24-hour a day care. They’re left unattended for long stretches overnight and even long stretches during the day.” 

Hansen added: “Horses are domesticated. They’re highly adapted to an urban environment, because there’d be no New York City without them — they’ve been living on the island of Manhattan since 1625. Our horses get all the hay they can eat and plenty of exercise, a lot more appropriate exercise than most other horses. They are attacking horse people for helping the horse deal with a medical issue that is not unusual to have, despite all the best care in the world — they don’t actually care about the horses. This is about an ideology that on the one hand seeks to remove humans from animals and animals from humans.”

Birnkrant says it is time to move past the practice, which other metropolitan areas already consider outdated. “Many cities have outright banned horse carriages. There is a worldwide trend of evolving away from the 19th century tradition to a 21st century tradition of either getting them off the streets altogether or replacing carriages with a 21st century electric version that does not create a safety hazard and abuse horses,” she said. 

Horses at the Clinton Stables on W52nd Street. Photo: Grahm Trott

“We cannot keep waiting for more carriage horses to crash into cars, collapse in traffic, run out of control, and injure tourists. New York City is a progressive city but as of now we’re far behind on this issue,” she added. 

Until the City Council reaches a consensus, however, it appears that the fight will rage on between those who believe horse carriages are an essential New York tradition, and those who view them as a problematic relic of the past. For now, we will keep seeing the horses on their nightly commute back to their Hell’s Kitchen stables.

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29 Comments

  1. They (the horse lobby and union) can say whatever they want to justify the way these horses are treated and worked to death in a polluted city environment where they don’t belong, but they doesn’t mean this practice needs to continue. City after city have put an end to using sentient beings in this type of work. It’s dangerous and really a stain on NYC for allowing this to continue.

  2. It is about the horses, and only about the horses. There is no comparison between life on the streets of any city, especially NYC, and life in a sanctuary. The time has come to end this. Alternatives are available and being used in many other places. Times change and so should we.

  3. This abuse has gone on for far too long. I fear it will only take a fatal injury to a human to end this barbaric tradition once and for all because it seems that no amount of animal abuse has moved the NYC Council to action. What a sad state of affairs. I am thoroughly sickened by it.

  4. This cruel archaic industry should have been banned many decades ago. These horses work 9 hours a day, seven days a week, without any turn out time. At the end of their usefulness to the carriage industry they are often sold at auction where many of them go to slaughterhouses and are killed in horrific ways. This is after a lifetime, or in some cases several lifetimes ( some of these horses were bought from other abusive situations) of service two man. And this is their “reward,” their *retirement.” As a registered nurse of 40 years, humanitarian, and animal advocate I am tired of seeing these horses being exploited and abused. I sincerely hope this is the incident that is going to propel the city council and mayor to ban this horrific, archaic industry. Thank you for your excellent coverage of this issue.

      1. They will go to one of many sanctuaries in the tri-state area, where they will be properly cared for and left to live out their last days with grass underfoot and fresh air to breath.

        1. That would be amazing if that was actually what would happen. You are absolutely crazy if you think these horses go somewhere like that. The harsh reality is if they don’t work they go to the slaughterhouse. Until you have had the privilege to have these animals, you should never be able to comment about how their lives should be lived. If they are not worked they develop more issues. Most of the draught breeds would simply die off, and you are correct about the polluted areas, maybe keep your damn cars away from the horses. Take your Subarus and prius’ out to a damn field so they can do some good and rot.

  5. I realize that people commenting on this story have no clue about equine care and horses in general. These people only believe the lies of PETA and other groups such as NYCLASS. The so called expert in this article is a danger to her horses. I would like to know how many horses she has had die on her farm for improper treatment of colic. I had a horse colic this spring from eating too much grass. I was able to get her up and walked her around for several hours and after farting and pooping she had no further issues. Calling for putting them out to pasture is a very bad thing for the horses contrary to the belief of PETA it will actually shorten the horses life. I have seen it happen more times than I care to see. I have a horse that is 32 and is still ridden albeit not as he was 10 years ago. But he still has a job and is doing very well. All of the horses in NYC have jobs and also are not worked to death. The last I knew and that was last year they work for a certain number of hours 1 day and then have 2 days off. There are further limits in hot weather and so on. Please go and educate yourselves and not a 56 second video out of context and understanding of what is actually occurring

  6. It just gets me on all the experts that don’t have a clue u have to get tha horse up or it will die the longer its down recovery gets a less chance for survival

  7. Any HONEST horseman will tell you you cannot ‘reason’ with a panicked horse, and a horse in pain will act panicked. Trapped gas is the most coomon cause of colic. Many years ago my vet explained it to me this way. If we, a human feel discomfort from gas we understand what we are feeling, we know it will pass. All a horse horse knows is that it hurts, they will kick at their stomach, throw themselves on the ground (your bad luck if you’re in the road) and try to roll. The issue with rolling is the swollen portion of the intestine might not turn with the parts before and after which results in two twists. The twists stop blood flow killing those sections intestine.
    Using slaps, or even kicks, to get past the horse’s focus on the pain might appear cruel, but recognize you’re talking about 1000 pounds of animal that can shrug off the kick from another horse that would kill or cripple a human. Pulls on a lead rope are the signal to go forward, as is encouragement in the form of slaps on its rear.
    Before you condemn the action of the horse’s caretakers recognize that what the did was to keep it alive until a veterinarian could arrive on scene.

  8. I believe too many people are overlooking all the human cruelty going on in the city to focus on cruelty of an animal! It is time that people that don’t experience working with animals wake up and see a few things about reality of life. From my experience with horses it would have been worse to let the horse lay there and suffer and die than to try and get it back up. When that is your horse then you will do whatever it takes to keep it from dying.

    Now I’ll get to the issue that I think is overlooked because of the love for animals and not having a greater love for human life. Why are so many babies being ripped and sucked up out of the womb before they can even see the world around them. Why should they not have a better chance to life than that. The horses don’t have souls and a human does, there are a lot of children that get killed for the sake of pleasure and they could actually help lead and influence our communities but never get the chance! Sorry that was more than I was going to say but I love animals but we have to have a way greater value on human life than an animal!!

    1. Marcus, please don’t shoehorn your irrelevant and unwanted views about a hot, controversial human issue into this discussion about horses. Thank you!

    2. Thaw fact that you would bring an irrelevant topic into this conversation and state that humans are more important than animals shows you are not an animal lover and in my opinion you should not have any interaction with them at all.

    3. Please take your beliefs about abortion someplace else. This is infuriating. The subject is CARRIAGE HORSES.

  9. How much more do these horses have to suffer!?? The industry is run by a small amount of vicious bullies…the only ones who benefit from the suffering of these animals. Someone needs to stand up to them and be a hero to the horses and all of us (most New Yorkers) who oppose it!!!

  10. Unless your a horse owner or a vet you don’t have a dog in this fight. You have to get this horse up and keep it walking, if it has colic or it will die. Most people who make a living or need transportation from a horse take good care of it, as it is their income. Price of gas you all may need a horse soon.

  11. People please go educate yourselves on horses and horse care I have work with horses so I know about the Care of horses until you ride horses then you know it’s hard work to care for them

  12. Lives in New York, New York
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    Zelda Penzel is with PeaceFor AllBeings and 59 others
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    t8ofa5wthlisJ2n0m619 ulu · Shared with Public
    For anyone with a heart, an ounce of compassion in their soul – with eyes to see and even just a bit of knowledge and awareness about animals – we recognize suffering when we see it! We know the difference between lies and the obvious truth! We are familiar with excuses for greed and exploitation! We recognize indifference, and the cruel, abusive treatment of animals just as we recognize it when it happens to people.
    In the 21st century, with no “blinders” on and eyes open wide, we know that whether a horse, a cow, a pig or elephant; whether a chimp, a chicken, a dog or cat: “animals are not ours to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.’
    It’s long past time for shackled horses, living in warehouse buildings, dragging carriage-loads of naive and ignorant tourists around in unrelenting heat, freezing cold, pouring rain, until they drop from exhaustion – to be freed from a hideous, archaic industry – an industry that should have been swept into the dustbin of history more than 100 years ago! An industry with no moral compass that has no place in today’s society!
    Mayor Adams, New Yorkers are fed up! Time to stop grandstanding and take positive action to replace this obscenity with electric horseless carriages or some other cruelty-free, planet-friendly attraction! NYC Council members, time to support doing the same!

  13. Despite overwhelming pressure to end this s outdated and cruel industry, it remains active. It makes one wonder about the real reason it is being protected. In this one particular cruel incident out of many, how do we even know this horse had colic? We are taking the word of a disgraced veterinarian. There should have been other help offered to this horse. From the video it was clear the handlers – not the horse, as they claim – were panicking and trying to get the horse out of there as quickly as possible. Ms. Hanson’s claims that the incident took a few minutes is ludicrous as the incident was on video and witnessed by many park goers.

  14. When I first saw this photo, I realized the horse was having cholichy symptoms. I have had horses go through that, and it’s NOT easy or pretty! Because hordes can’t vomit, whatever is bothering them goes through their gut, mouth to tail. If they don’t get them up and keep them walking, the tension in their muscles increases and they can lie down and die a very painful death. Keeping them up seems cruel, but it’s necessary, especially in severe cases, until the vet arrives with a painkiller called Banamine. Usually, upon getting them up, the horse passes a lot of gas. So it was a lifesaving maneuver. Perhaps people should offer to call a vet for those helping the horse. (Even new green grass can cause cholic if the horse is sneaking it here and there, and has a hay diet!

  15. What do you think will happen to the horse’s if they stop working.No one will keep them they won’t have the money to .They will be put down.Do you really think that’s better.This is a fact ,there are no farms out there to take all the horse’s that will need a home.The people who use the horses should be made to treat them right but don’t stop this because both the horse and human need this to live.Also what they said about colic is right you have to get them up before their intestines get in a knot . I have no interest either way in this I’ve just lived around horse’s since I was little and hope my dad with colicky horses.And also seen horses sold to killer’s when they were of no use to their owners anymore

  16. The NYC carriage horse industry is inherently cruel and corrupt. It should be banned now and forever.

  17. 😊…humans will justify their utilization of an animal to the death of them huh??😂😂😂Smh. What a sad life to have to live…purely for the financial gain of ignorant beings who don’t believe you have a soul and therefore are unworthy of respect. LET THESE ANIMALS GO BACK TO THEIR NATURAL HABITATS!!! Why do many white people believe they know more about wildlife…than the animals themselves.😂😂😂😊 Let’s get rid of zoos as well. If you want to see particular types of animals…go on a safari trip or travel beyond your natural habitat. Trust me…these animals were better off without human interference. Yes, at one point in time they were utilized for transportation. Then along came motor vehicles. Of course, they are causing a great deal of pollution but…they are faster. Besides, the Earth doesn’t have a soul anyway.😂😂😂😬😊 Come on fellow New Yorkers, let’s help to end this sad life for horses. Oh and one more thing…there isn’t a such thing as a shark attack…it’s their natural habitat you are trespassing. Imagine someone walking into your home like they paid rent.😬 Perhaps, most of us will experience just that very soon. Okay, thanks for letting me share.😜

  18. We are not talking about ONE horse with or without colic, or whether his treatment by these two was proper or not, or even whether the “official” vet is a quack. We are talking about a pattern of injury and death of SEVERAL horses, for different reasons (car accidents, heat stroke, etc.) over a period of many years.

    And while it is true that horses have been on Manhattan island for hundreds of years, those were horses in their natural environment, used for necessary reasons (transportation, farming, etc.). However, once NYC was paved, and they later began being used for “tourist” reasons, it became a very different thing.

    Horse and carriage rides are an archaic and unnecessary tourist attraction in NYC. It is way past time we end it. It brings in almost zero revenue to the City, and until only recently, drivers overcharged people by covering their rate signs with blankets or other things (they can deny this all they want; it was standard practice for years). And although it has gotten much better, this practice hasn’t entirely ended.

    As well, it almost doesn’t matter whether the “true” reason for trying to end the practice is some sort of “conspiracy” of real estate developers for the stable properties. The point is that MANY horses have been injured or died. Period.

    There is a way to end this that would be a win-win-win-win. The horses would go to REAL pasture (several offers have been made by sanctuaries and other safe places); the carriages would be replaced by electric (and thus, non-polluting) antique cars; this would allow carriage drivers to remain working, at a similar rate of pay; and the antique cars could be stored at the stables, thus preventing their immediate possession by developers.

    THIS is the answer. And it would not be that difficult – or expensive – to set in motion. Let’s do this.

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