Horse-carriage drivers, tourists brace for the end of an institution
The klip-klop of horse hooves is something that's been heard in and around Central Park for the past 150 years, as tourists regard the horse carriage tours as indelible to the New York City experience. But the industry could be coming to an end, one of many changes that newly elected mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to make before and after taking office.
"We are going to get rid of the horse carriages. Period," de Blasio said soon after taking office.
De Blasio's campaign was helped during the primary as fervent and deep-pocketed animal rights activists opposed one-time front-runner Christine Quinn over her refusal to ban the trade, which they regard as abusive and inhumane. Now that de Blasio has taken City Hall, those same activists are expecting a follow-through on promises made, and the mayor shows no sign of backpedaling his stance.
In a recent visit to Central Park, the mood among drivers was one of defiance, with more than a little hope that their union - the Teamsters Local 533 - can mount a legal defense to save their livelihood.
One driver who declined to give his name said he's been giving horse carriage tours for over 30 years, and regards his horses as his children. He doesn't know what he'll do if the trade is banned, and said that claims of horses being abused are simply untrue.
"We love our horses, we not only care for our horses, we love our horses," he said.
The driver said that de Blasio would not have been elected had it not been for the activists.
"When he was, my guts were twisted out," he said. "They're playing with people's lives."
The driver said he was heartbroken when he was characterized as abusive towards his animals, and had to explain himself to his children. "Horses build the community, we all know each other. We're family over here."
The driver said he's been raising horses since he was three years old, and that nobody gets into the horse carriage trade - which he called blue collar - for the money. "Horses are my life, you can't not love this job."
Another driver, who gave his name as Jerry, said that a small group of animal rights activists made this decision for 8 million New Yorkers, and that he's hopeful the new City Council will reign in what he sees as the government overstepping its bounds.
"He's not king," said Jerry. "Who's backing these ideals? Who's the one that persuaded him to have those ideals to start with? This institution has been around before [the activists] were born and it should be around when they leave."
Jerry said the trade is how he got through college and how he pays the rent. "This is my life, this is my identity," said Jerry. "We're tour guides. Animals have been here for years and we don't mistreat them. It's just an opinion of a small minority."
Valerie and Tony, tourists visiting from England, said one of the main reasons they came to New York was to take a carriage ride while they still could.
"A lot of friends and relatives have taken the tour and we just thought we'd like to do it as well," said Tony. "It's typical New York as far as we're concerned."
A man named Jesus visiting New York said he's never taken a carriage ride but would like to someday.
"That would be a pity in my opinion," said Jesus, if the horse carriage trade was banned. "That is something that visitors really love to go for, the ride and the horses and the sightseeing. I would disagree entirely from what [de Blasio] is saying.
A woman who lives in New York and frequents Central Park, but declined to give her name, agrees that the practice should be banned as inhumane.
"I think they should go as soon as possible," she said. "I think they're abusive to animals and I don't see them being used enough to be worth it. Some icons, time passes them by. There are certain things, it's sad, they're iconic, but time passes them by. "
What do you think, should the horse carriage trade be banned in New York? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.