Bill de Blasio’s Pledge to Abolish Horse-Drawn Carriages is Running Away From Him


The smell of the Clinton Park Stables arrives before the sight of them, a mixture of straw and manure and horse sweat. It rises from the pavement of 52nd Street, just east of the Hudson River, across from De Witt Clinton Park, from which the stables take their name. The smell makes you swivel your head around, searching for a phantom pony.

On a recent evening, though, the street is deserted. Most of New York’s famed carriage horses are winding down their day, heading into stalls at four stables dotted across midtown. Inside Clinton Park, as the equine residents settle down to sleep, the humans are, as usual, preparing for war.

“Horses for centuries have been living in stalls, except when they’re working,” Christina Hansen says. She stands in the stable’s narrow, no-frills office, which looks like a taxi dispatcher’s workspace: a battered red bench, a time clock resting on a white ledge. Outside the door, a worker sprays down a white carriage and rolls it into place for the night. Another guides a placid draft horse up a long ramp to its second-floor stall.

Hansen is in her mid-thirties, in jeans, rimless glasses, and the jaunty feather-decorated top hat all carriage drivers wear. She’s coming off a day’s work and sounds a little weary.

“Our horses are helpful, fit, happy, bright-eyed, and a good weight,” she says. “They’re not showing any stable vices” — behavioral issues horses can develop when they’re confined, isolated, or bored.

“You have to say that this works great,” Hansen adds.

She’s referring to the carriage industry as a whole: Besides her part-time work as a driver, she’s a spokeswoman for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York, the industry trade group fighting to keep the horses in Central Park.

Soon Hansen is joined by Stephen Malone, a fellow top-hatted driver and second-generation carriage owner. Hulking and taciturn, he punches at a cell phone that looks like a toy in his hands, glancing up occasionally to interject. “They’re trying to steal these horses from our grasp,” he says glumly.

Malone’s Irish-immigrant father began driving a carriage in 1964. The younger Malone has been in the business for more than a quarter-century, and now owns several horses.

Most of his time in “the box” — carriagespeak for the driver’s seat — has been quiet, but in the past year he has gotten sick of the stream of reporters trooping through the stables, filming the hack line at Central Park where drivers wait to pick up their fares, putting microphones in his face and asking how he feels. The other day, yet another TV station called to request more B-roll of the hack line.

“B-roll, B-roll,” Malone groused recently to Hansen. “The only roll I wanna hear about anymore is a chicken roll.”

Hansen heads to the second floor, where 78 of the city’s 220 carriage horses spend their nights. It’s as hushed as a library. “They’re quiet because they’re happy,” she says, pausing at the stall occupied by a draft horse named Rosie. Nearly all of New York’s carriage horses are draft breeds, prized for their size and relative placidity, and for the centuries they’ve spent working for humans, pulling plows and people. Rosie stares down her nose at Hansen and flicks her tail. As soon as the driver walks away, the horse starts stomping against the walls of her stall, making an unholy racket.

“She wants treats,” Hansen explains. She hands Rosie a carrot and the horse quiets down at once, regally accepting it between her massive teeth. Hansen moves on to one of Malone’s two horses: Tyson, a handsome, midnight-coated fellow with a white blaze down his face. He stands on his bed of straw, regarding his waterer, which hangs over the side of his stall.

“He’s a TV star,” Hansen says, stroking his neck. Tyson has appeared on Law & Order and, in an irony the carriage drivers bitterly relish, on 30 Rock alongside Alec Baldwin, one of the carriage horse industry’s loudest opponents.

From this vantage point, the horses falling asleep on their straw, the carriage life looks tranquil. But for years, opponents have argued that it’s time for it to end. They didn’t have a sympathetic ear under former mayor Michael Bloomberg or then–New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “These horses work, like you, like me,” Bloomberg told Metro New York in October. “There’s a few hundred people that work in this industry who support their families based on it.” The demise of the trade, he warned, would mean slaughter for the horses.

Bill de Blasio, however, was elected Bloomberg’s successor in part because of the powerful support of an animal-rights group, NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean Safe and Livable Streets, headed by former Edison Properties CEO Stephen Nislick). Throughout his campaign, de Blasio promised an “immediate ban” on the industry.

“One year ago, almost no one believed it was possible,” NYCLASS spokeswoman Allie Feldman wrote in a message to supporters the week after de Blasio was elected in November. “We were mocked. We were ridiculed. We were written off as crazy cat ladies. But you believed in NYCLASS’s strategy to elect a humane mayor and City Council, and because of you, Tuesday was the moment that started a new era for NYC — and the entire animal protection movement.”

But four months into de Blasio’s term, there’s still no sign of a ban. Recently, the mayor announced during an online press conference that he was putting it off until sometime later this year, explaining, “I think everyone came in and looked at all the other things we had to do and we had to prioritize.”

In the meantime, a savvy and relentless public-relations campaign has produced a groundswell of support for the carriages and growing skepticism in the media around NYCLASS’s plan to replace them with pricey vintage-replica cars powered by lithium-ion batteries. Newspaper editorials have advocated for the horses to stay: The New York Times, Post, and Daily News, papers that historically don’t agree on much of anything, have come out in favor of the industry (the News has even begun a petition drive). A January Quinnipiac poll found that 64 percent of New Yorkers oppose banning carriages.

Hansen and Malone believe the tide of battle has turned in their favor.

Malone adjusts his top hat and turns to leave for the night. “We’re not going to lose,” he vows. “Period.”

The life of a carriage horse isn’t always as peaceful as bedtime at the Clinton Park stables would suggest.

About 10 horses have died in midtown traffic accidents. Anti-carriage activists frequently cite the infamous incident that killed Smoothie, a 12-year-old mare, to bolster their case.

On the afternoon of September 14, 2007, Smoothie was on the hack line at Central Park South when a musician accompanying a breakdance crew walked by, banging a small drum. According to a New York Times account, the horse spooked and took off, running nearly a block before darting between two poles. She made it through, but her carriage did not. As the mare struggled to break free, witnesses told the paper, she collapsed and died.

No human has ever died as a result of a carriage accident. But there have been injuries, perhaps most notably on the disastrous New Year’s Eve of 1983, when a horse frightened by fireworks bolted into a crowd that had gathered to participate in an annual race in Central Park. Dozens of people were knocked down and 13 were hurt.

In 1988, an anti-carriage activist named Peggy Parker created the Carriage Horse Action Committee to raise public awareness of the dangers the carriage industry presented. Her effort met with limited success. In 2006, another activist, Elizabeth Forel, formed the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages. Forel says it was the death of a horse named Spotty, who lived at West Side Livery on West 38th Street, that made her act: “It was a rainy night. He spooked at something and he ran into traffic. He ran into a station wagon and wrapped himself around the car. He was euthanized because he was so badly injured.”

Forel counts 38 other accidents between 1983 and 2009, 10 of which resulted in the horses’ deaths. A few have seriously hurt carriage drivers. In 2006 a gelding bolted, running for several blocks before hitting a station wagon. The occupants of the vehicle were unhurt, but the horse was euthanized, and the carriage driver, 36-year-old Carmelo Vargas, fractured his skull and had to be placed in a medically induced coma (he eventually recovered). At the time of the accident, Vargas had been on the job for only eight months.

Animal-rights groups say more horses may be dying in incidents that go unreported, while the carriage industry says accidents are an anomaly. They contend that riding in a car in New York City is far more dangerous than riding in (or pulling) a carriage. But there are far fewer carriages than cars: only 68 licensed carriages (they get medallions, like taxicabs) and about 150 full-time drivers.

Holly Cheever is a veterinarian upstate and chairwoman of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association‘s leadership council. She has opposed the carriage industry since the late 1980s, when she began interviewing drivers and was alarmed at how little most of them knew about horses. Some of them, she says, had to be told that their horses were lame.

“When horses are out there with cars, there’s always an inherent danger,” Cheever says. “Horses will spook.” Constant exposure to traffic can raise the risk of respiratory illness, she adds. Without proper shoes, pounding the pavement can result in lameness, and hot asphalt can lead to heat prostration. She and other advocates are concerned that the horses live in old, narrow, multistory buildings that would be difficult to evacuate in a fire. And the work life of a carriage horse — stable to park and back again, nine hours a day for years or decades — leaves no time for “turnout,” a chance for a horse to romp in a field and visit with other horses.

“These are an exceedingly social species,” Cheever says, but the structure of the carriage industry makes interaction with their fellow creatures impossible. “It’s survivable, but that doesn’t mean it’s humane,” she says. “Not dying in droves does not mean it’s OK.”

The carriage drivers argue that daily turnout isn’t necessary for working horses, and that the activists’ view of what a horse needs is more sentimental projection than reality.

“Their philosophy is based on the idea that horses should be big dogs,” Christina Hansen says. “That’s not what they’re bred for. Different animals have different purposes.”

Hansen believes the opposition is passing judgment on an industry it doesn’t fully understand. “Somebody who sits in a cubicle at NYCLASS or PETA or city hall and thinks they know more about horses than us — it’s the height of arrogance.”

Horse owners outside New York have a more nuanced view. Heather Clemenceau is a “pleasure driver” in Toronto, taking passengers on carriage rides on country roads outside of town. But she’s also part of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, which opposes urban carriage driving. Clemenceau says she’d never drive a horse in a populated urban area. “There are too many variables between the horse and the other vehicles on the road,” she says. She’s also disturbed by videos of New York drivers who don’t, in her view, have a solid grasp of how to handle the reins or control the horse.

Clemenceau says it’s difficult to assess whether the horses “like” their jobs or whether they’re simply loyal creatures, trying their best to please the humans who guide them.

“My honest appraisal is that we don’t really know what they like to do,” she says. “Even in pain, horses will run races. That can’t be something they like to do. Are carriage horses enjoying themselves, or are they doing it because they’re subjugated? We find horses a very accommodating species that does the things we ask of them. But we really don’t know.”

It’s not just that the players in the carriage debate can’t agree about what makes a horse happy or healthy. They can’t even agree on when the industry they’re fighting over got its start. The carriage drivers say it’s a tradition 155 years old, as intricately wound into the fabric of New York City as Central Park itself. That’s true, for the richest families: In 1860s New York, carriage rides generally were a pursuit for the wealthiest, the kind of people with a lot of leisure time and the money to afford private coaches, which they raced through Central Park, sending the 99 percent scurrying for cover. Middle-class New Yorkers hired carriages only on special occasions, with stables charging $1 for an hour’s ride.

Some anti-carriage folks say the medallion system was put in place in the late 1940s, when Irish-born Mayor William O’Dwyer awarded 68 medallions to various cronies. That story is meant to explain why the industry is mostly Irish (and, by implication, corrupt and insular). But newspaper accounts from the time don’t back up that claim. O’Dwyer was only mayor for four years, interested in taxing horse racing but with little to say about the carriages.

At the turn of the 20th century, horses in the city began to be replaced by cars and cabs. By 1965, Gay Talese, writing in the New York Times, referred to the Central Park carriage drivers and their industry as “aging,” almost a curiosity. Talese talked to 73-year-old horseman Sam Arthurs, who’d earned his living as a driver since arriving from Scotland in 1919. Arthurs charged $5 for a ride around the park and told Talese he considered $15 a successful day. The requirements to become a driver weren’t very strict: Anyone over 18 who could pay $25 and pass a short test and a physical got a license.

In 1967 city inspectors posing as tourists found that the carriage drivers were charging up to four times the legal $5 rate for rides, victimizing tourists and prom couples alike. “The best riders come late at night,” one driver helpfully explained. “The couple in evening clothes sloshed to the eyeballs.”

In 1977 the ASPCA complained to the Times and the City Council that the carriage horses were shamefully overworked, telling the paper they’d received 44 complaints that year about drivers’ or stable owners’ mistreatment. In 20 of those cases, the agency added, the horse had to return to the barn to be seen by a veterinarian. New legislation introduced by City Councilmember Carter Burden made the carriage industry the responsibility of the Department of Health, which began licensing the carriages like taxis, and (theoretically, anyway) revoking licenses if drivers mistreated their horses.

In what would become a pattern, the drivers said the allegations of mistreatment were exaggerated, even after a 1979 Times story found that some drivers were whipping horses excessively or throttling the reins so tight that the animals’ mouths bled.

The drivers were unhappy, too, with a 1981 law that made them pay $25 per horse for a license. They also had to observe speed limits, use night lights or reflectors, and provide their steeds with sick days. The drivers were also made to punch in and out of their shifts, with no more than 10 hours allowed per day. The ASPCA, along with the city department of health, began overseeing the horses and the stables, requiring better sanitation, bigger stalls, better quality food, and more frequent veterinary exams.

Until 1989, few laws governed where in the city the carriages could go. That year the City Council passed a law to restrict them to Central Park for most of the day. But amid protests from the drivers, the council amended the law in 1992, prohibiting carriages from operating outside the park during morning and evening rush hours but permitting them to venture to midtown and Times Square after midnight — roughly the same hours the carriages keep today.

The reforms didn’t satisfy opponents, who argued that the requirements were still too lax and that the ASPCA and health department were stretched too thin to monitor the industry.

“The idea had always been to try to get better regulations for the horses,” explains Edita Birnkrant. She’s the New York director for Friends of Animals, a national group that has always been involved in efforts to better regulate the carriage industry. In 2006 the animal-rights groups decided gentle reform just wasn’t working.

“All of the efforts in the ’80s and ’90s didn’t really amount to much for the horses,” Birnkrant says. “We realized the need to form a concerted effort that focused on getting a ban, not just on improving and changing the regulations.”

State Senator Tony Avella, a longtime City Council veteran, filed a series of ban bills at the council and state level. They went nowhere. Avella received support from his constituents — he says “about 10 to one were in favor” of a ban — but aggressive lobbying from the carriage industry, along with a lack of support from Bloomberg and Quinn, did him in.

Meanwhile, a 2007 audit of the industry by the New York City comptroller found “no serious violations” in the health and safety of the horses. But the report noted that the ASPCA’s oversight was voluntary: “It is possible that the ASPCA could reduce or curtail its voluntary inspections at any time, leaving a void in the oversight of the industry.” (The ASPCA did stop regulating the carriages in January, leaving it to the New York City Police Department, another move that has alarmed animal-rights advocates.) A follow-up audit in 2009 raised concerns that horses might still be working after they’d formally been retired but found no definitive proof.

In 2010, more reforms required larger stalls and more time off, including a mandatory five weeks’ vacation per year. (Birnkrant, however, argues that’s no replacement for daily turnout: “Vacation is a human concept. A horse doesn’t understand the idea.”) Horses were prohibited from working if they were younger than five years old or older than 26, and in temperatures below 18 degrees or above 90. It also mandated a raise for the drivers, allowing them to charge $50 per ride.

The specters of dead horses were raised during the last mayoral campaign with a degree of intensity that surprised even the long-timers. That’s due to the work of NYCLASS and two related groups, Anybody But Quinn and New York Is Not For Sale. NYCLASS was the main donor to the latter, which spent about $1.1 million to defeat Christine Quinn, former City Council speaker, expected mayoral frontrunner, and a strong carriage supporter. (In August, Crain’s reported that New York Is Not For Sale had received about $320,000 over the legal campaign finance limit from NYCLASS head Nislick and others.)

At a December 30 news conference leading up to his inauguration, de Blasio gave NYCLASS its money’s worth.

“We are going to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriages no longer a part of the landscape in New York City,” he stated. “They are not humane. . . . It’s over.”

The carriage industry sees de Blasio as impossible to negotiate with, a man so deep in the pocket of the radical animal-rights crowd (or “RARAs,” as they derisively refer to them in private conversation) that there’s no getting through to him. They mention often that he has yet to actually visit the stables, though he has promised to.

“Lhota — he would’ve been easier to talk to,” Stephen Malone says of the vanquished Republican candidate.

The stables rest on valuable land. From the front door of his stable on West 37th Street, Neil Byrne can see scaffolding in every direction, as condos spring up around him.

“Out here is where the real story is,” he says, gesturing at the cranes dotting the skyline.

Byrne claims that in an early meeting with the carriage drivers, Nislick proposed a real estate deal of sorts, saying he’d rent the electric cars to the drivers, along with space to park them. “He knew the dimensions of our stables better than we did,” Byrne says.

Nislick has denied that story and any interest in the land underneath the stables, and he has made no move to purchase the properties or otherwise profit from the proposed ban. Nor is his interest in animal rights limited to horses: NYCLASS wrote in a January letter to supporters that its 2014 goals include advocating against foie gras, and for mandatory sprinklers in pet stores and better state protection for sows, cows, and elephants.

The carriage drivers retort that no one at NYCLASS is an animal expert, and that any veterinarian who looks at the horses will see they’re healthy and happy.

Kathy Anderson is an equine veterinarian who visited the stables recently. “The stables themselves were well bedded in adequately sized stalls with quality straw, fed good hay from upstate New York and an appropriate grain/pellet mix,” she wrote in a report to the American Association of Equine Practitioners. The horses, she added, “were in good body condition, appeared bright and happy and had individual health records and licenses posted on each stall door.” Based on her visit, Anderson concluded, “I would support the carriage horse industry.”

Stephen O’Grady, a veterinarian at Northern Virginia Equine, was asked to visit the stables in December under more sensitive circumstances.

Carriage driver Saverio Colarusso was charged with animal cruelty in November, after an NYPD officer saw him working a horse with a visibly injured leg. A police veterinarian later found that the horse, Blondie, had thrush, a type of infection that can lame a horse permanently if left untreated. O’Grady, who examined Blondie, declined to share details with the Voice, citing patient confidentiality. But he says he made several recommendations for the animal’s care that were “carried out perfectly.” He also made an impromptu stable tour afterward. “These horses were all very adequately and appropriately shod,” he says, calling the overall conditions at the stable “excellent.” (Colarusso’s court date is pending.)

When the Voice visited the Clinton Park Stables on short notice, the stalls were clean and the horses had plenty of access to hay and water. NYCLASS claims on its website that “[t]he cramped space doesn’t allow these enormous animals to lie down or to move about freely.” But Clinton Park’s stalls were roomy enough for horses to turn around, lie down, and stretch out, which they did with abandon. Unannounced visits to the other three stables revealed similarly clean quarters, although come summer, the ceiling fans at two of them, Byrne’s stable on 37th and West Side Livery on 38th, may be too small to do the job. (Christina Hansen of the Horse and Carriage Association says, “The fans on 37th and 38th St are adequate in the summer, or else DOH, or previously ASPCA, would issue citations for inadequate ventilation.”) All the stables have enough room for the horses to lie down and turn around, as well as access to clean water and hay.

NYCLASS executive director Allie Feldman contends that the stables aren’t the main problem. “The issue is about the inhumanity of having horses in dangerous midtown traffic,” she says. “Why would anybody want to subject an animal to this dangerous nose-to-tailpipe existence when there’s an absolutely gorgeous, sustainable alternative for tourists?”

Feldman is referring to NYCLASS’s plan for a replacement industry for the horses: phasing out the animals over three years and replacing them with those electric, vintage-style cars. NYCLASS recently unveiled a $475,000 prototype. “It’s beautiful,” says Feldman. “You see it and you just want to climb in.”

NYCLASS says the prototype was paid for with individual donations and that when produced on a larger scale, the cars are expected to cost $150,000 apiece. Feldman says the nonprofit is “working on getting private financing” for those vehicles. “There’s a couple different organizations that are interested in the project.”

But in order for them to take the horses’ place in the park, someone on the City Council will have to introduce a bill to ban the carriages and replace them with the cars, then muster the 26 votes required to pass it. And de Blasio’s recent comments don’t make it sound like that will happen soon. The delay has given the carriage drivers and owners ample time to gather steam, and to create doubt about the wisdom of the car-for-horse swap.

A recent Newsday poll of councilmembers found that 15 support a ban, eight oppose it, and 19 are undecided. Peter Koo, a Democrat from Flushing, is one of several councilmembers who co-sponsored a ban bill last session. But Koo has since said publicly that he’s not sure he made the right call.

“Right now we’re on the fence,” Koo’s chief of staff, Jonathan Chung, says. “Having heard the carriage drivers’ concerns, Chung adds, the councilman “isn’t sure that is the best possible move for them. It’s really their livelihood.”

The union many of the drivers belong to, Teamsters Local 553, has come out against the ban. So did the AFL–CIO’s Central Labor Council, which recently wrote the mayor an open letter urging him to consider the impact of a ban on the drivers and their families. The Teamsters and the CLC endorsed de Blasio for mayor and have backed him on most other issues, including universal pre-kindergarten.

“There was no question he was the labor candidate,” says Demos Demopoulos, Local 553’s executive officer. “We wish him success in everything, except we are hoping we’ll be able to have some constructive dialogue and preserve this great, iconic industry.”

A good chunk of Hollywood has lined up behind the carriage ban (most notably Alec Baldwin, who has opposed them for years: When his 30 Rock character, Jack Donaghy, called the carriages “rolling torture wagons for nature’s most dignified creature,” many suspected the actor, not the character, was doing the talking). On the other side, there’s actor Liam Neeson, who spoke in support of the carriage industry during visits to The Daily Show in 2009 and again this year, and who visited the Clinton Park Stables in March, generating a tsunami of publicity. (Neeson became friends with a carriage driver after the man’s wife, a midwife, delivered the actor’s first child.)

The oddest member of Team Carriage, though, is the Cavalry Group, a legal-aid and lobbying group from St. Louis that advocates for the rights of animal owners. Headed by a Tea Party–backing married couple, Mark and Melinda “Mindy” Patterson, Cavalry takes the stance that any government interference in the business of animal owners or producers (i.e., breeders) is unacceptable. On Cavalry’s blog, Mindy Patterson has written about “Agenda 21,” a conspiracy theory positing that the United Nations is trying to enslave the U.S. Some Agenda 21 believers, Texas senator Ted Cruz included, think it’s all about taking away America’s guns; the Pattersons seem to believe it’s about taking away animal agribusinesses’ right to do as they please.

The Cavalry Group’s first campaign was in 2010, against Missouri’s Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act. A website Mindy Patterson set up for that fight, the Alliance for Truth, has since been repurposed to serve as a pro-carriage horse page. Patterson also set up Save NYC Horse Carriages, a glitzy new website.

The Pattersons have another passion: lobbying in favor of horse slaughter. There are no horse slaughter plants in the United States and the sale of horsemeat is illegal, but Mindy Patterson sees those as fixable injustices. She advocated for the opening of a horse-rendering plant in Gallatin, Missouri, last year, and fumed when Congress nixed the effort. (The Cavalry Group did not respond to two interview requests from the Voice.)

The Horse and Carriage Association doesn’t see eye to eye with Cavalry about everything, but Stephen Malone says he’s grateful for any help.

“We just want to be left alone, to do our jobs the way we’ve been doing them for the last 150 years,” he says. “We’re just regular people who want to go to work.”

In a rare point of agreement with carriage drivers, Elizabeth Forel of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages doesn’t think the electric cars are feasible either. Nor does Tony Avella, the state senator and former city councilmember. Both say NYCLASS has latched on to an unrealistic idea that could sink the idea of a carriage ban altogether.

Edita Birnkrant says Friends of Animals is “somewhat neutral” on the cars but opposes the notion of a prolonged phase-out. “It’s three years too long to keep horses on the street and put them and the public in danger,” she says. “There are options for replacement industries beyond the electric cars that could be more attractive,” such as retrofitting the existing carriages with motors to replace their horsepower.

Avella is more blunt, calling the electric vehicles “a fantasy ,” he says. “I’m all for legitimate ideas that end this industry, but electric cars aren’t it.” He too favors retrofitted carriages, deeming them cheaper and more straightforward. NYCLASS, he says, is “fixated” on the electric car idea. “And they have all this money.”

There’s also the not-insignificant fact that most carriage drivers say they won’t drive an electric car, citing the notion as impractical, expensive, and untested. Many reject retrofitted, motorized carriages for the same reason.

“They’re being completely inflexible,” counters Birnkrant. “If they refuse any replacement industry, then we should just go forward with a straight ban.”

NYCLASS remains convinced its cars are the best solution.

“The mayor and the speaker and many councilmembers have made it very clear that this is where the city’s tourism industry is going,” Allie Feldman asserts. “Whether [the carriage drivers] like it, this is what’s going to be happening. It’s our hope that these drivers would see what a wonderful opportunity they have in front of them and take advantage of it.”

NCYLASS and the ASPCA say they have adoptive homes lined up for every horse who’ll be out of a job — another talking point that infuriates carriage owners, who note that the animals are their private property.

“We’re supposed to hand our horses over to people who’ve been calling us terrible horse abusers?” Malone asks incredulously.

The drivers say they can easily arrange comfortable retirement for a few horses a year. But they say putting their horses out of a job all at once would make it nearly inevitable that some would end up at auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania, to be purchased, shipped to Mexico, and slaughtered for meat.

“These horses are very lucky,” stable owner Neil Byrne says. “They’re needed and wanted. They have jobs. If we had to get rid of 200 all at once, 90 percent would go the other way.”

That’s precisely how a lot of carriage horses end their lives now, the anti-carriage contingent fires back. Many retired animals, they claim, end up being sold at auction in New Holland.

The carriage industry, meanwhile, touts Blue Star Equiculture, a retirement home for horses founded by former carriage driver Pamela Rickenbach, with help from Christina Hansen. But Blue Star has only taken in 17 ex-carriage horses over the past five years.

In 2012, it seemed as though hostilities between carriage owners and the anti-carriage crowd had reached their apex. There were a few physical confrontations. A video depicting an Irish driver calling anti-carriage protesters “cunts,” “dykes,” and “niggers” made the rounds, and some carriage opponents intimated that drivers were mainly illegal immigrants.

But two years on, relations aren’t much better. The dialogue is especially uncivil on Twitter. When Allie Feldman’s cat Lulu died unexpectedly earlier this year, the carriage drivers and their supporters mocked her. In return, she invited them to “go fuck yourselves” and referred to them as “white trash.”

Feldman says that while the press corps has focused on de Blasio’s failure to fulfill the “immediate” part of his “immediate ban,” efforts to persuade the City Council continue “behind the scenes,” and successfully.

“I know we have the votes to get this through,” Feldman says. “What the media doesn’t see is we have chapters in every borough and thousands of volunteers. They deliver petitions and get hundreds of letters and calls to these council people. This is something that the carriage industry won’t be able to replicate. Those are the kinds of things that the media doesn’t see that we do. And we’re very good at it.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Stephen Malone as a co-owner of the Clinton Park Stables. He is not. It also identified Wee Red as one of his horses. Red belongs to another owner. Christina Hansen has responded to our opinion that the ventilation in the 37th and 38th Street stables may be inadequate, and we have included that response in the updated article.