New York is a fantastic city. Manhattan is its financial and arts and culture center. And at its heart—some might say at its lungs, since its thousands of trees breathe oxygen into the city—is Central Park.
A masterstroke of urban planning, Central Park came to be in the latter half of the 19th century, designed by Frederic Law Olstead. A work in progress through the decades, and stretching north to south some 50 city blocks, it is a landscaped green zone in the middle of America’s grandest and biggest city. It’s a respite from the bustle of New York, a recreation area, a quiet place, and a gathering place—and it’s even a haven for urban wildlife. It helps make New York a liveable community.
For me, the one element that mars any Central Park experience is seeing the carriage horses and the men who direct them. On some of the streets that bound the park to its south, carriage horses pull tourists in what is supposed to be a quaint means of viewing the city. The problem is, these poor horses are asked to navigate the carriages in the midst of some of the densest traffic patterns in America, with all of the exhaust, blaring horns and other tumult of any hyper-congested area. Horse-drawn carriages in New York are an anachronism, and I will relish the day when these creatures are no longer subjected to their current dose of indignities and hazards.
Just days ago, a 13-year-old mare named Smoothie was startled by a drummer, triggering her to run onto the sidewalk with an empty carriage hitched to her. According to The New York Times, she made it between the poles, but the carriage didn’t. She fell to the ground, panicked even more, and went into shock. She died minutes later. Another horse was startled by the commotion, darted into traffic, ran over the top of a Mercedes-Benz with two passengers in it, but was miraculously not hurt himself. The car, however, was severely damaged and the passengers shaken.
It’s the latest incident of death or injury involving a carriage horse. It has an all too familiar ring. Last year, a horse was startled and galloped down 9th Avenue. She ran into a station wagon, critically injuring the carriage driver and injuring the two occupants of the car. The horse suffered a broken shoulder and leg, and had to be euthanized.
The carriage horse owner’s association now says it wants to limit music and noise in the area to protect the horses. It’s a typical diversionary tactic from the industry. Trying to limit noise that may startle horses on the margins of the park is like trying to stop birds from singing in the hinterlands. It’s folly.
The only way to protect the horses is to get them off the streets. If you go to New York, don’t patronize this carriage horse business. If you live in New York, let your city council members know you are unhappy with the treatment of these animals.