By Debra Alfarone
Organizers held a rally with shouts and signs Saturday that could make even the toughest New Yorker’s eyes tear up, right in the heart of the city’s carriage ride territory: Central Park South and 5th Avenue.
Liza Persky lives on the Upper West Side and said she had to come out: “There was a time when muggings in Central Park and porn shops in Times Square were so New York, and now it’s progress. Things have to change.”
Elizabeth Forel is the President of the Coalition to Ban Horse-drawn Carriages. She says horses do not belong on the streets of New York City explaining, “They weigh about 1500-2000 pounds, and they spook easily which means that they bolt into traffic, they go nuts.”
It was last Thursday, when a brown-and-white, 6-year-old carriage horse named “Oreo” got spooked, broke free and bolted four blocks, giving tourists a real story to take home. The carriage driver was hurt. Cops caught Oreo. The rally was planned.
Christina Hansen of the Horse and Carriage Association of NYC says the protesters aren’t knowledgeable about the industry, “They don’t know horse physiology, they don’t know horse behavior, they read it in books, they extrapolate, ‘oh, horses spook at everything,’ no, they don’t.”
It’s true something spooked Oreo, but carriage driver Dave Koch says if you add up all the hours the horses are on the street, the accident rate is quite low: “We’ve got about 350,000 horse hours that they work annually. If you look at the accidents and place them on a time line, there’s been two really bad accidents in 20 years.”
Koch and the other drivers have quite the ally: Mayor Bloomberg. On his weekly radio address, Bloomberg said, “I think it’s something that a lot of tourists really love, it would be a shame to lose them.”
Despite Saturday’s protest, many people still hopped on for their $50 ride, including Tracy Geier in town from Columbus, Ohio. “It’s a beautiful day, nice and relaxing, walking around with all the hustle and bustle, this is the thing to do.”
Lawmakers say they’ve introduced legislation in Albany to ban the rides outright, but it remains to be seen whether it will pass.