Small Crowd Rallies on Central Park South to Draw Tourist Support on a Horse Carriage Ban

Targeting tourists and New York residents, a group of horse advocates and animal-rights activists sought to bring awareness to and gain support for a citywide ban on horse-drawn carriages yesterday.

The group, the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, hosted a rally and "hotel crawl" in response to three carriage horse accidents that occurred between Oct. 23 and Nov. 4. Yesterday we wrote about the group and its ongoing efforts to get the city to ban horse-drawn carriages, which it says are unsafe and inhumane, despite carriage operators who say the horses are treated well and politicians who say the carriages contribute to the city's culture and tourism industry.

The crowd was significantly smaller than the group that showed up on Oct. 28 for the vigil for Charlie, the horse that collapsed and died on Oct. 23. By 6:45 p.m., about 30 people had gathered near Fifth Avenue and Central Park South, and by 7:15, that number had grown to about 40 people.

"Enough is enough. Ban horse-drawn carriages!" the group shouted repeatedly, eliciting curious -- and some perplexed -- glances from bystanders, taxi drivers, and hotel porters.

Participants held up signs bearing statistics and facts supporting their efforts for the ban, including a statement questioning the horse's diet and pictures of Smoothie, Juliet, and other horses that have died in New York City carriage accidents since CBHDC's founding five years ago.

One sign stated that 76.2 percent of New Yorkers support a horse carriage ban, according to the Wall Street Journal. (The figure comes from a still-active reader poll based off of 1,492 votes total as of this morning). Additional signs questioned "Grains or Pigeon Feces?" and "Will a person die next?"

Throughout the demonstration, which lasted for nearly two hours, the group traveled west toward Columbus Circle and finally to 60th Street to the entrance of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the site where Charlie Luke, the latest horse to collapse, got his leg caught in a carriage shaft on Nov. 4. Once the group reached the Mandarin, one of the hotel's managers, who wished to remain anonymous, met with CBHDC president Elizabeth Forel and other rally participants to express his distress about the horse's collapse.

"I was upset. All of my staff was upset," he said.

The group also stopped at The Plaza Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, and the Jumeirah Essex Hotel along the way. Forel said the group targeted the hotels because visitors are common patrons of the horse-drawn carriage industry and many remain unaware of the safety threat carriages pose to people or the conditions in which the horses work.

Before the rally began, Forel said she wanted the march to be as peaceful as possible: "I thought it would be a good idea if we did it in a dignified way."

Michel, a tourist from Moscow who asked us to withhold his last name, was caught in the rally. As his carriage's operator pulled to a curb nearby, a group of CBHDC volunteers held signs in his direction. Upon exiting a carriage with two friends, we asked him what he thought.

"It's part of the New York experience," he said. "I think it's part of the city, and people have to make money some way. Horse-drawn carriages are OK. They're everywhere."

Horse advocates say tourists visit the city for its world-class theaters, museums, dining options, and other attractions, not to ride in a horse-drawn carriage along Central Park South.

Donny Moss, a documentary filmmaker, came to the rally to support CBHDC and to help educate the public, he said. Moss began documenting the horse-carriage industry in 2006 after witnessing a CBHDC protest surrounding a spooking incident that occurred on Ninth Avenue that year. In 2008, he released "Blinders," an award-winning documentary about the horse-drawn-carriage industry.

Moss said he was especially concerned about what happens to legislation that proposes to ban the horse drawn carriages. He said there was an "utter lack of democracy in the city council" and that some former and current city council members told him they could not publicly support bills supporting a ban because they feared New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a supporter of horse-drawn carriage, would penalize them.

He also was concerned about the efforts of New Yorkers For Clean Livable and Safe Streets, also known as NY-Class. As we reported yesterday, the group has gained support from celebrities like Pamela Anderson and Glee's Lea Michele, who have asked fans to sign NY-Class's petition calling to replace the carriages with electric cars, designed as replicas of vintage carriages.

Moss said NY-Class's efforts are problematic because the group's founder, Steve Nislick, a real estate developer and the CEO of Edison Properties, LLC, contributes to Quinn's campaign and must remain on her good side for the sake of his business. "[His] success depends of having a good relationship with her," Moss said. "He needs her for his real estate developments."

Moss also said NY-Class's call for electric cars is poorly planned. "How are they going to roll out a fleet of electric cars for a prototype that doesn't exist?" Moss said, adding that there's no proof the cars are "a viable option."

Jenna Michael, a CBHDC volunteer, said she supports the proposed replica electric car models, but she feels that a law to ban the carriages needs to be passed immediately because it will be a long time before electric cars will become an alternative, if that effort is successful, she says.

"Something needs to happen sooner," she said.


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