Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Former Horse Carriage Owner Speaks out against Intro 573-B - the no-ban bill

Former Horse Carriage Owner Speaks out
against Intro 573-B -- the NYC Council bill that sells out the horses

To Whom It May Concern / NY City Council

As a horse owner and former carriage livery operator I have been very concerned about the living and working conditions faced by the horses used in the NYC street hack tourist carriage industry for several years now.

At first, I believed these horses were adequately cared for and given proper care, just as my own horses were. But after looking into how the tourist carriage industry operates in New York City, I realized that working and living conditions for these horses were unacceptable.

As a person who has ridden, shown, driven and bred horses for a span of more than 50 years, I can honestly say that I would not keep or work any of my horses under the conditions most of the carriage horse owners or drivers in NYC apparently believe are satisfactory.

I also do not support Mayor Bill deBlasio's proposed compromise as being in the best interests of these horses either.

Here are my reasons for believing his plan is NOT good for the horses and does not meet their needs. I also believe it is not in the best interest of the pedicab owners/drivers, and of the members of the general public who use Central Park.

The first and most important reason is that the plan does not provide for any turnout at liberty (unharnessed or unhaltered without a lead) in a large paddock or pasture. Horses are social animals and without access to an area where they can exercise or graze at the very least several times a week - preferably with other horses to whom they are accustomed--, they develop "vices" or bad habits such as chewing wood, cribbing, weaving in their stalls and can become hard to manage. These habits can cause illness and make them unsound for work.
Large draft horses and draft crosses need adequate stall space, especially if they do not have ANY access to turnout for months at a time. Currently many of these horses are housed in stalls that do not meet the minimum recommended square footage for horses of their size (a MINIMUM of a 12 ft. by 12 ft. stall) and the mayor's proposed new stable provides for only 10 ft. by 10 ft. stalls -- these are INADEQUATE for the size of most of the horses used by the carriage owners and driver in NYC.

The plan to keep the number of medallioned carriages at 68 while reducing the number of horses to only 75 means the horses will have to work MORE than they do now. It is my opinion that these horses are already working shifts that are too long and too often now. Really having horses stand or work on hard surfaces in city traffic for 9 hours a day, often 7 days a week is already possibly injurious to their health and minds, especially with all the pollutants in the air. It also probably isn't good for the drivers either.

The mayor's plan does not provide ANY protection from slaughter for these faithful animals once they become injured or too old to work. In this day and time, that is simply a crime and is inherently inhumane. Former NYC carriage horses have already been found in kill buyers' lots destined to slaughter. Without legal protection, I believe this will continue to happen.
The provision to remove the VISIBLE license numbers on the horses' hooves is also not a very good idea and will make it easier for dishonest owners and drivers to try to pass one horse off as another. This has already been the case. A driver was caught trying to pass an old horse with respiratory problems, who should not be working, off as a younger sound horse. I believe these horses should have BOTH a visible hoof brand and a microchip. But to be honest, many sales barns and dealers do not bother to check to see if a horse is micro chipped.

I also believe that if horse-drawn carriages are going to be allowed to continue to operate in NYC and other densely populated urban areas with heavy motorized traffic, the drivers need to be better trained and supervised. The mayor's proposed compromise does not address this issue at all. There are countless videos and photos on the Internet that show drivers blatantly ignoring regulations that are already on the books to make carriage driving safe. Drivers routinely leave their horses unattended and untethered curbside. Even the best trained horse can be startled or spooked by a sudden loud noise or unfamiliar sight. This had happened DOZENS of times in the past 10 years since I became aware of the situation in NYC. Sometimes people and horses have been seriously injured, and often these incidents have resulted in the death of the horses involved on the street or their euthansia back at the stables. Really, the sight of a dead horse in the street is not very conducive to tourism.
There are also other issues that make this proposed compromise suspect. For example, if I lived in NYC, I would not want public funds spent to build a stable for a very few -- 68 or so -- people to be able to pursue their own private for-profit businesses. I also do not think it is fair to give one set of business owners a monopoly at the expense of others in a similar service industry. I am referring to the pedicab owners and drivers being excluded from portions of Central Park while the carriage owners and drivers are granted access to these same areas, exclusively. But THESE are issues that would be more of a concern to NYC citizens and tax payers. 

I am mainly concerned about the welfare of the horses involved because the treatment these horses have received, and are continuing to receive at the hands of some of the carriage owners reflects badly on all of us who own and drive horses. I can honestly say that during the seven years that I operated a special events and wedding carriage livery, not a street hack business like the tourist carriages under discussion in NYC, I was negatively impacted by stories of horses running away and being injured or causing injury to drivers and passengers in your city. After the horse named Oreo spooked, bolted and became a runaway, the video was carried by many network affiliates including the one in Baton Rouge, near where I operated my business. I lost two wedding bookings as a result of the fear that video engendered in the public.

My business model was nothing like the street hacks in your town, but I was still affected. As a private carriage livery operator, my horses were booked for specific events and rarely traveled on public streets at all. They were usually at weddings and other functions held on private property, and they actually worked no longer than 3 hours at a time from unloading to reloading and going home.

I know that the NYC carriage owners and drivers like to claim that only they "know" about horses, and only they are qualified to speak to the issue of equine care. Just for reference, I have been riding horses since age five and I began driving in the show ring when I was in my twenties. My late husband and I bred and showed flat shod Tennessee Walking Horses for more than ten years. We produced several champion horses, including a horse that was exported to Germany and won several gaited classes at the Equitania, including a gaited championship there.

I operated a profitable special events livery from 2007 through 2015 when I ceased making my horses and "rolling stock" available for hire. I owned a total of six draft horses, all of whom were retired at my expense on my property. I still drive my remaining horses and ponies for personal pleasure on the streets of my small rural town and at selected historical reenactment events in my area.

In closing, I urge the council and anyone who has a modicum of concern for the welfare of NYC's carriage horses to reject this poorly planned compromise as not being in the best interests of the horses or the citizens of NYC who share the streets of Central Park with them and the carriages.


Mrs. H. B. Willis 
Elysian Fields Farm 

P.O. Box 272
Clinton, LA 7072

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