Horse-Drawn Carriages Trotting Out of NYC (Along with Speciesism)

horse carriage

Central Park is a magical place—a truly enchanted forest in the middle of New York City. But its beauty is marred by an age-old practice that may soon be on its way out: horse-drawn carriages.

Horse-drawn carriages are of another time—one many animal rights activists would like us to forget for good. And incoming mayor Bill de Blasio may remove this blemish from the city once and for all, liberating the 216 horses who work 9 hours a day, 49 weeks out of the year carting people around the park.

During the 2013 mayoral campaign, de Blasio promised to end the city’s reign of horse-drawn carriages on his first day in office. De Blasion said that New York, “the biggest and densest urban area in North America” is “not a place for horses.” He plans to replace the animals with electric cars designed to look “old-timey” instead. It’s a big promise that has activists breathing a sigh of relief. And surely a few horses are excited about it, too. “It’s obvious. There are better alternatives,” said de Blasio.

To further his commitment, the Mayor-elect recently headlined a fundraiser for the anti-horse carriage group NYCLASS, and again, de Blasio reiterated his commitment to ban the carriages once he’s in office: “I’m honored to be a part of your movement,” said de Blasio, according to Politicker. “I believe it’s time to end horse carriages in New York City.”

Technically, it’s a mode of transportation. We’ve equated horses with human transport for eons. But before it’s a way to travel, riding horses is exerting dominion over an animal—one who would surely not choose to carry humans and carriages if given the option. We break horses. We tame and train them to accept passengers. And then, when they no longer put up a fight because they know it’s a losing battle, we say they like it. They like us.

And, maybe, some of them do.

Maybe the free food and water make up for the work of taking humans for rides. And even though the horse-drawn carriage has been a longstanding part of human history, I can’t help but equate it with what’s happening at SeaWorld, after the film “Blackfish” has brought to light the suffering of orcas, namely Tilikum, the giant captive male orca who has been linked with the deaths of three people.

SeaWorld’s whales are held captive in tanks. It doesn’t take a genius to discern that the tanks are significantly smaller than the open ocean. And New York City’s horses, for the most part, live in cramped stables on the city’s west side—far from anything they’d ever imagine as ideal. They spend most of their time there except for the 9-hours a day that they’re forced to endure the chaos of Manhattan’s noisy streets and the many (mainly) tourists who pay for the rides.

“Blackfish” has been so successful in bringing the issue of captive orcas to light that musicians including Willie Nelson and Trisha Yearwood recently cancelled plans to perform at SeaWorld. Pixar changed the ending of the forthcoming film “Finding Dory” after seeing “Blackfish.” There’s a good chance we’ll see the organization transition—and fast—to another platform for promoting marine life without the use of captive whales. All thanks to one film.

De Blasio will surely be remembered for many things after serving as mayor of New York City. But setting the tone for a new era of respect for animals in Manhattan may be what lasts the longest. Looking back a century from now, he’ll be known as the mayor who spoke up for horses. Just one more friend to the animals. One more person who saw consciousness not defined as a human-only trait, but as inherent to all species.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Eliya

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.