NEW YORK – The horse-drawn carriages that clip clop around Central Park could be banned under City Council legislation to be introduced at the urging of animal advocates who say the horses are treated inhumanely.
Democratic Bayside Councilman Tony Avella, who plans to introduce the bill next Wednesday, said the horses that have entertained tourists and New Yorkers for decades are exposed to cruel conditions and are at risk of injury or death as they weave through city traffic.
In September, a horse died after it was spooked by street musicians with drums and bolted down Central Park South. It was the second such incident in less than two years.
"This situation is only getting worse _ the animals are not being treated properly, and enough is enough," Avella said. "Horses are incompatible with traffic _ especially midtown traffic."
It is not clear how much support his bill has in the 51-member council, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week that the horses are cared for and should stay as a New York City fixture.
"These are things that the tourists like and New Yorkers like and they define a city," he said.
The Horse & Carriage Association of New York issued a scathing statement in response to the proposal, stating that the city's carriage horses are in excellent health and Avella "is the one who should be put out to pasture."
"Our industry is made up of predominantly Irish and Italian working families who have for generations made their livelihoods in the horse carriage industry," the group said. "NO ONE is more invested in the health, safety and welfare of our horses than we are. They are not only our livelihood, they are a part of our lives and we care deeply for each and every one of them."
The city has 220 licensed carriage horses, 293 certified drivers and 68 licensed carriages, said association spokeswoman Carolyn Daly, who noted all horses spend four months each year at a farm and are eventually retired to farms.
The Health Department issues permits and registration for the horses and stables, and is responsible for inspections.
A spokeswoman on Friday declined to comment on the legislation, but said the agency has convened a horse advisory board to address horse health and safety issues in the city.
The board of members from the veterinary community, the horse carriage industry, the riding community and the public, met for the first time last week.
The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages has long been campaigning for the city to shut down the stables and end the rides.
Avella said he has visited the stables on the west side of Manhattan, and described the conditions as small and cramped.
On Saturday, the Queens Democrat was to announce his legislation with the coalition and a number of animal rights activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and television star Jo Anne Worley.
"The industry is inherently inhumane, and we feel that way because it denies a horse its most basic instincts," said Elizabeth Forel, president of the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages.
In September, an audit by the city's comptroller found that the horses work in an area without enough water spigots, shade or drains for their waste _ and without enough oversight by authorities.