New York's horse and buggy losing ground to animal rights group

Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:09am EDT
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Central Park horse and buggy ride, for decades an iconic New York experience along with a Broadway show or a visit to the Empire State Building, is facing extinction.

Animal rights groups that had long argued horses do not belong in a congested, urban environment like midtown Manhattan suddenly find themselves with the upper hand.

Three weeks before the city's November 5 mayoral election, the top candidates both support ending the practice and say they are open to alternatives, like replacing the horses with 8-seat electric cars.

"We are in the biggest, densest urban area in North America. It is not a place for horses. They are not meant to be in traffic jams," Bill de Blasio, the Democrat front-runner said at a press conference with New York Class, an animal rights group. "It's obvious. There are better alternatives."

But Christina Hansen, a carriage driver from Kentucky who has become the face of the industry in New York, says de Blasio and his Republican opponent Joe Lhota have it all wrong.

"It's all a bunch of hysteria," said Hansen, 33, as she guided her horse, Sara, through Manhattan traffic toward Central Park. "Their agenda is not animal welfare. It's animal rights."

"We bred horses to be powerful, willing partners in our civilization," said Hansen, who wore a long coat and feathered felt hat. "They project their own human emotions onto horses."

Like many New York classics, the Central Park carriage ride was immortalized in cinema. In Woody Allen's "Manhattan," Allen's character kisses his young girlfriend, played by Mariel Hemingway, in the back seat of a carriage. The image has been used again and again in TV series such as "Sex in the City," "Seinfeld" and "30 Rock."   Continued...

A horse drawn carriage is seen going through Central Park in New York October 16, 2013. REUTERS/Adrees Latif