Monday, April 21, 2014
Liam Neeson Steps Up to Save NYC Horses and Stables
Preserving DC Stables wrote about the plight of the NYC carriage industry earlier this year and now shares this update.
The Opinion Pages |OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
By LIAM NEESONAPRIL 14, 2014
Carriages Belong in Central Park
DURING his run for mayor, Bill de Blasio pledged to eradicate the Central Park horse-drawn carriage business. He called the industry inhumane, and proposed to replace the retired horses with electric-powered replicas of vintage cabs. Since taking office, he has not agreed to meet with the operators or hear their views. In a Google Hangout on Friday, the mayor affirmed his commitment to a ban: “We expect action on it this year.”
The majority of New Yorkers, however, do not agree with him. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows that 64 percent of New Yorkers polled support the horse carriages.
I have been a New York City resident for over 20 years, and have enjoyed Central Park for as long. As a horse lover, I grew up riding and caring for two horses every summer on my aunt’s small farm in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. I have continued to enjoy working with horses in a professional context over the years, appearing in a couple of Westerns and what I call “cowboys in armor” movies.
I can appreciate a happy and well-cared-for horse when I see one. It has been my experience, always, that horses, much like humans, are at their happiest and healthiest when working. Horses have been pulling from the beginning of time. It is what they have been bred to do.
Horses and their caretakers work together to earn a decent livelihood in New York, as they have for hundreds of years. New York’s horse-carriage trade is a humane industry that is well regulated by New York City’s Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Consumer Affairs. Harry W. Werner, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, has visited the stables and “found no evidence whatsoever of inhumane conditions, neglect or cruelty in any aspect.”
Every horse must be licensed and pass a physical examination by a veterinarian twice a year; typically, the horses spend about six hours per day in the park. They cannot work in excessive cold or heat, and must also be furloughed for five weeks a year on a pasture in the country.
New York’s horse carriages have made an estimated six million trips in traffic over the last 30 years. In that time, just four horses have been killed as a result of collisions with motor vehicles, with no human fatalities. In contrast to the terrible toll of traffic accidents generally on New Yorkers, the carriage industry has a remarkable safety record.
A majority of carriage drivers and stable hands are recent immigrants, often raised on farms in their home countries. They love their jobs and their horses, and they take pride in being ambassadors for this great city. I can’t help but see the proposed ban as a class issue: Their livelihoods are now at risk because the animal-rights opponents of the industry are well funded by real-estate interests, which has led to speculation that this powerful lobby wishes to develop the West Side properties occupied by the stables.
As a result, an entire way of life and a historic industry are under threat. We should ask whether this is the New York we want to live in: a sanitized metropolis, where local color and grit are thrown out in favor of sleek futuristic buildings and careening self-driving cars?
I spent a number of years in my youth as an amateur boxer in Northern Ireland. Good boxers learn the art of shadow boxing: Understanding your moves and weaknesses helps you anticipate your opponents. In this ring, the carriage drivers are sparring in the dark. There is no discussion. No referee. Just unjustified accusations, made in a vacuum where one will win and another will lose.
During my daily walks in the park, I talk to numerous New Yorkers, including police officers on their beat, about how we can save the industry. Some say that there’s no reason an industry that has worked well for the last 150 years shouldn’t continue for another 150. Others believe that there is an opportunity in this challenge.
One such visionary is Mindy Levine, the wife of the New York Yankees president, Randy L. Levine. Her proposal is that the horse-drawn carriage business could coexist with riding stables and therapeutic riding facilities — all within the setting of Central Park itself. This would also provide access to equine-assisted therapy for children with autism and for the rehabilitation of troubled teenagers.
Back in 1974, when Central Park first became an official city landmark, the preservation committee specifically noted the “array of carriages drawn by horses.” According to the media strategist Ken Frydman, who is advising the drivers, the horse-drawn carriages should today be designated a living landmark.
Before we lose this signature element of New York’s culture and history — instantly recognizable to the millions of tourists who visit our city and contribute to its economy — the least the mayor can do is come down to the stables and see how the horses are cared for. I urge Mr. de Blasio to meet the working men and women whose jobs are at stake and to start a dialogue that will safeguard a future for the horses that the majority of New Yorkers want.