Horse-Drawn Carriage Driver Fears End Of Tradition
04/02/14
Associate Editor
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In a turbulent city, where the winter chill lingers and the mayor, no less, wants you to lose your job, Ariel F. finds serenity as he has for 33 years: He travels down to Hell’s Kitchen from his apartment near the Yonkers line, and when he sees Rebecca he runs his hand through her black hair, gently stroking the curves of her body and back.

She is beautiful, a 17-year-old bay mare, white cuffs of hair around the base of her rear legs. He, a 59-year-old Israeli, is beautiful, too, a sentimental kibbutznik with an easy smile, quite dashing in the top hat he wears when taking Rebecca for a ride through the park. He’s had her since she was a young filly in Pennsylvania, trained by the Amish to nonchalantly share a road with the horseless carriage. From Amish carriage makers, Ariel bought an elegant blue and gold carriage, “the colors of Maccabi Tel Aviv,” Israel’s iconic basketball squad, “so every time I go in my carriage I think of my favorite team.”

Rebecca, he says, or “Rivkah,” as he calls her in Hebrew, “not physically but spiritually is the mother of all the [78] horses” in Clinton Stables, the three-story building on West 52nd Street. “Rivkah is the Jewish mother. She is the most gentle horse you can find. She can handle any situation that needs handling.”

He is heartbroken that anyone would say the treatment of the horses is “inhumane,” ostensibly the reason that the mayor wants to replace the horses and carriages with antique-styled cars. As one cynic told The New York Times, “That’s all we need in this city — more cars.”

The Central Park carriage trade, more than 150 years old, is run out of four Manhattan stables housing between 150 to 175 horses. The stables mostly have three attendants to care for the horses, day and night. Another 50 horses, at any one time, are on their annual five-week (minimum) vacations in Pennsylvania or upstate New York. The horses work no more than a nine-hour day, with breaks, and are regularly seen by veterinarians. An Amish gentleman regularly travels to Manhattan to give each horse a new set of horseshoes every five weeks. “We have a very close working relationship with the Amish,” says Ariel, who requested that his surname not be used.

When he came into office, Mayor de Blasio said, “We are going to quickly and aggressively move to make horse carriages no longer a part of the landscape. They’re not humane.” The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals added, “These horses are surrounded by buses, cabs and traffic. We believe that it no longer is, or never was, quaint or romantic.”

According to the drivers’ union, which is part of the Teamsters, the horses, and 220 licensed carriages, have made more than six million trips in the last 30 years, with only three equine deaths from accidents and no human fatalities. The very logo of the Teamsters union is a horse and a wheel.

Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of The New York Times, recently pointed out that “people who spend time with horses know it’s not inhumane to make them draw carriages. … And it’s worth noting that one of the big driving forces hiding behind the anti-cruelty front of the anti-carriage campaign are real estate developers. Is it possible they want to turn the stables in prime Manhattan locations into far more lucrative condos?”

In 2011 the Times dropped in unannounced to the Clinton Stables and found “the horses are treated better than advertised.” Living in spacious, well-ventilated stalls, with windows and fans, each horse has access to “water than flows with the nudge of a nose and plenty of hay.”

The horses have the day off when it’s too hot or cold (above 89 degrees or below 19), or in severe storms. Some years, says Ariel, he misses 80 or 90 days to the weather. Of course, he says, he always errs on the side of the horse’s well-being. “Believe me,” says Ariel, “we always feed our horses before we feed ourselves.”

In the face of the mayor’s campaign promise to eliminate the horse-and-carriage rides, the New York Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO sent letters to the City Council, asking for “support and solidarity” with the horse-carriage drivers of Teamsters Joint Council 16 and Local 553, “who stand to lose their jobs in the face of powerful, wealthy interests.” The Labor Council adds that the Central Park rides are one of New York’s “top three” tourist attractions, and the horses “are treated with great love and respect…”

Last week, Ariel went to City Hall, “to share my 33 years of experience. We want people in City Hall and the City Council to come to our stable and see how much we take care of our horses, how a horse-drawn carriage ride is a way to connect to nature, a beautiful way of travelling, taking people from the present to the past.” A Quinnipiac poll, taken earlier this year, found 61 percent of New Yorkers are against the proposed ban on the horses.

Ariel, whose father fought alongside the Yugoslav partisans, learnt his way around horses in Kibbutz Buchenwald, founded in Israel by survivors of the camp. (The kibbutz was later renamed Netzer-Sereni.) “The kibbutz had a lot of animals, agriculture, a lot of responsibility was given to the kids,” Ariel remembers. “I’ve been working with horses since I was 3!”

When Ariel and his wife first visited New York in 1981, they were introduced to a Jewish carriage owner who offered them work as drivers at Chateau Stables. Ariel’s wife is now a teacher in a Jewish day school, but Ariel stayed with the horses. “I worked as many days as I could,” says Ariel. “The stable was on 48th Street. We lived in a studio, two blocks away. I loved it so much, if work began at 9 o’clock, I’d be there 6 o’clock to take care of the horses.  We worked mostly with draft horses,” Belgians and Percherones.

“My mother, zichrono l’vracha (of blessed memory) used to visit from Israel, and sit on a bench, and I’d say, ‘C’mon Ima, bo’i (come with me.) Sit in my carriage. We’ll go for a ride.’ ‘She’d say ‘No, no, no. You have to make a living.’” When people ask Ariel where he is from, he might take out a photo of his mother, lighting Friday night candles, bringing her hands to her eyes.

In Central Park, he points out the old Dairy, the Carousel, the Bethesda Fountain that reminds him of its Jerusalem cousin, the pool of Bet Hesda, a place of grace. “I know every tree in the park,” says Ariel. “I can talk with every tree in the park as I go by. To be in the park is to lose the stress, to unwind.”

When lovers ride with him, on their honeymoon or after a wedding proposal, “I wish them mazal tov, a life of joy and trust. I make for them a tefillah, a prayer, for a happy life together. They call me the rabbi of Central Park. It makes me happy, to bring the light of my kibbutz and Jerusalem to Central Park.” The world is a more romantic place at two or three miles per hour, when seen from his carriage, under the moon.

As he rides with Rebecca, Ariel writes songs to and about his horses. The songs are all ballads, to the rhythm of the clip-clops. As he rides in the carriage, pulled by Rebecca, people wave. “Even those who don’t ride feel happy from us,” says Ariel.

And so he waves back, hoping they’re not waving goodbye.

Jonmark50@gmail.com

Last Update:

04/25/2014 - 18:07

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the horses smell; their droppings smell and make running or bike riding in the park an exercise in avoidance; and they really screw up traffic going to and from the park

for whatever reasons the mayor has, this is probably the only worthwhile thing he'll accomplish

Charlie, the exhaust fumes from cars smell and pollute the environment, cars make it difficult to walk, jog and bike in the city (not just around the park). And, they often hit and sometimes kill pedestrians.

Why don't we ban cars from New York?

Thank you for this thoughtful piece. I think it is a beautiful story and appreciate the reporting that went into it. Unlike so many who have rushed to judgment about the conditions and care of these horses, you actually spent the time to meet with this loving and experienced carriage driver and examining the conditions for horses working in this industry. I grew up reading Jewish Week, and am pleased to see you highlighting the contributions of those in our community in this way. Keep up the good work.

This is inhumane because horses do not belong in traffic. How many more can it be explained?

Mayor DiBlasio does a lot of things right, but he's wrong on the proposed horse carriage ban. The writer, editors and publisher did a mitzvah in communicating this story. Don't be bullied by the coordinated fearmongering misinformation posted by single issue extremists who -- I'll bet dollars to bagels -- have never read or supporting The Jewish Week before and now feel entitled to hector you, your readers and our community on the finer points of morality and ethical behaviour. Let's keep a great NYC tradition rolling and keep up the good work!

What a touching article about the classic New York story that ties all immigrant groups together...Irish immigrants, Jewish Immigrants and their families rely on this industry to make a living, but more than that, they care about the animals they rely on to make their living and treat them with the ultimate respect. Its a shame that groups like PETA are using these drivers and their animals like pawns in a game to increase donations and get some publicity. Thanks for posting this article.

The orchestrated comments by NYCLASS and PETA shouldn't surprise anyone. They are small minority with lots of money. Aren't they the ones that say Kosher slaughter is cruel to animals? Give me as break. Something's not Kosher about NYCLASS's tactics. Many of the carriage horses were rescued from the glue factory and given lives that are rewarding and loving with families that really care.

Almost 300 people die in traffic fatalities in NYC each year, yet no one calls for a ban on pedestrians in New York.

Follow the money - the "pro-carriage ban" set is a group of wealthy developers who covet the stables' real estate on the West Side. They created a political action group to fund de Blasio's election, and are happy to let the liars at PETA make noise in the streets for them.

There are no jobs if City Council and the Mayor destroy the carriage horse industry and its hundreds of small business owners. The 'electric cars' are just a theory. They do not yet exist, and people who visit Central Park for horse-drawn carriage rides are not going to spend that money on a car ride. The entire draw of Central Park is that it feels timeless and romantic. A car will never give you that feeling. That's why the horse-drawn carriages have been around for 150 years and people still love them.

Again, follow the money. People want that real estate, period. There are no other jobs out there waiting for the drivers and stable hands.

New York politicians: Don't let the claim of magical electric cars assuage your guilt at destroying family-supporting NYC jobs.

Thank you for this article! Those of us who know and love a draft horse know they were selected for this kind of work, very precisely.

I wish the activists would focus on raising the racing age of the thoroughbreds back to a reasonable age of four. Now THAT would save horses!

But it's easier to BULLY the carriage drivers!

You guys might need those horses there one day.

Mazel Tov, Ariel! The commentors spouting the distortions and lies about abuse should be ashamed. THREE horses have died in line of duty in over 20 years. That is a safer and better record than any other industry! The most recent one, that one poster probably saw, was documented by autopsy to NOT have been related to work or abuse. As you well know, the horses are well cared for, revered by their owners and the public, and bring joy and a touch of nature to the cold NYC streets.

I drove Horse and Carriage in Chicago in the early 1980's to put myself through college. At that time I was taking Hebrew, and studying to convert to Judaism. On Saturday mornings I would happily be approached by several families of refuseniks and others after a nearby temple would let out. They would help me practice my Hebrew and bring my horse Elmer treats. He would shake his head up and down in a yes as one of his few tricks. So the kids would ask him questions to have his say yes. "Will the Cubs win?", "Does Bubbe like me better?", etc. I would ask the kids in my horrible Hebrew, "Sus, gadol kane, lo?" The point is that interactions with animals is all part of the city community. Horses don't live in temperature controlled houses and being outside is their normal condition. People may apply their own needs and desires to the horses without considering the reality. The market for horses is tiny and shrinking all the time. The government sells mustangs to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses because there are not enough homes for horses. Animal Rights groups attack the small owners because they don't have the ability to fight back. When you study the foundation of the AR movement you will find it based upon Peter Singer's philosophy that includes eugenics.
I hope to see the carriage trade continue because life includes all of the species and working together is a blessing.

Beautiful. Really shows the true side of the carriage horses lives. It's awful that the mayor, NYCLASS, and those radical animal rights activists tried to convince people the horses were abused, unsafe in NYC, or not-well cared for. Many of those horses were saved from slaughter by being given that job of a carriage horse and they're all guaranteed retirement with that job. They don't need turnout as they get plenty of exercise, and interact with horses from their stalls and on the job. It's horrible people tried to convince others that this was some necessity of ALL horses! A lot of people are from the country and have no idea about urban horses. Then you have the people who are from the city and have no idea about horses period. Just awful those people were allowed to voice their opinion in an attempt to manipulate others opinions of the horses. Water is carried under the carriages in buckets and the troughs don't just freeze over and go ignored, they're actually tended to! The horses are very well fed and not at all dehydrated. The horses don't drop dead of illness -All of the vets who have examined them clearly commented on the great health they're in. Their jobs actually ensure regular visits from vets as part of regulation. There have only been TWO traffic related deaths of carriage horses in the last TWENTY years over MILLIONS of rides. Do you know how many thousands of PEOPLE were killed in NYC by cars in that time? Clearly accidents of carriage horses are extremely rare. NO NYC carriage horse is ever sent to slaughter. They're guaranteed retirement on a pasture if they keep their jobs. However, if people like you have their way there actually WILL be a good chance they'll wind up in a slaughter house. Why don't you get your facts straight before you repeat the lies those awful groups spread!

If a horse is worked he does not require turnout. My horses go out daily for many hours and will stand at the gate wanting to come in. The hay is more nutritious than the grass and usually tastier. The water trough is heated. Horses love the cold weather and shed their coats in summer. There are hour restrictions and temp restrictions. All the horses look well cared for and clearly you can see the trust they have in their human families. People there are horses in pastures starving because people can't afford to feed them. We still ship horses to slaughter. They have to be shipped out of the country and the haul is horrible. Horses need and love to work. Leave the carriage horses alone and go save the whales please.

Patrick P. Cosgrove, I don't see anyone profiting from a potential ban on this obscene industry, least of all we activists who for decades have witnessed the suffering of the horses on the streets.

Try the HSUS, ASPCA and PETA from donations from well meaning people like you (NONE of the $$ of which will be seen by the horses, if the ban goes through) and Steve Nislick's real estate firm (or others) that will convert the stables to expensive condos. Obscene is defined as "any statement or act which strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time." Sixty-four percent of the people responding to a survey (Quinnipiac) that did not allow more than one vote per person (unlike those cited by your AR sources) did not perceive a moral issue with the carriage horses, voting to keep them as part of the NYC heritage.

The humane and safety issues associated with having horse-drawn carriages in midtown Manhattan are unfixable. For starters, horses are prey animals; when they spook on a busy street and run into oncoming traffic, which is not uncommon, they become weapons. Also, the horses have no pasture in NYC where they can graze, run, roll and interact physically with other horses, as herd animals do. After working behind cars every day - nose-to-tailpipe - these horses develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Forcing horses to pull carriages in the same streets as aggressive taxi drivers, ambulances and tour buses is inherently inhumane. The list goes on. Like many big cities around the world, NYC should take these horses out of harm's way once and for all. Of course It will happen eventually; the only question is when.

Interesting -- which vet has diagnose the horses with pulmonary issues? I would have thought that document would have been all over this discussion? Working horses are not turned out daily; please, Black Beauty was a great story for kids, but is not a manual for horse ownership. Listen to Equine Rescue and the other horse groups who are calling "horse feathers" to the entire prospect of a ban. The park was designed to be seen by carriage and - believe it or not, asphalt was created for hooves!

I am appalled that animal rights don't update the vomit out of their playbooks for their cult followers. Reading the same old tired lies about the beautifully cared for carriage horses is getting redundant. *sigh*

The horses are fine. The horses live well, are treated well, and certainly do not work 9 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all extremes of weather....etc. etc. Tell the truth, Rina Deych. The ban on the carriage horses is about some real estate developers wanting the stable properties for condo development. You obviously do not want to know what will happen to most of those horses if the carriage trade is banned. But, personally, I hope the carriage trade's naysayers get trampled by those carriages.

I am not a DiBlasio supporter but in this instance I DO SUPPORT HIM. Living near the park I've seen these poor animals on a daily basis. They are obviously NOT cared for. I even saw one die. It's a danger also to those who take them. The carriage horse drivers have a big PR machine working for them right now trying to get sympathy. But what about the horses and the danger it poses to those who take them? If they were restricted to the park, stabled in the park and cared for properly then I'd be fine with it. But none of the above are happening. I've seen the NY SPCA even look the other way when I've called them seeing a horse working in extreme condition. If its one degree of either extremes they have them out there. It's insane. The bike trolleys in the park are doing well taking tourists around we can for sure do without the horses.

It's really a shame that so many folks choose to bear false witness against that which they know little or nothing. Nurse Deych's comments are so incorrect that I'm embarrassed for her. All of her outrageous claims have been debunked time after time. None of her claims are true by any stretch of the imagination. No matter anyone's faith or practice, Thou Shalt Not Lie is a universal commandment. Shame on you, nurse.

Thank you for this wonderful, moving story! The evidence is overwhelming that the carriage horses lead healthy, useful lives, and the people who care for them love them and consider them partners, not slaves.

This article is biased, one sided, and and dishonest at times.

First of all, the article accuses the mayor, of wanting drivers to lose their jobs, when as you acknowledge later, he is supporting electric cars as an alternative to keep the workers employed. The jobs are not the main issue, the horses are.

The horses are not people, or children, they are not even workers - any comparison to them being treated as such are irrelevant. The horses are commodities, they are a means to an end - profit - so what is the surprise that their owners defend the practice with lies. The truth? Carriage horses have an average working lifespan of 4 years, some have been rescued that were going to be sold to slaughter, and it's likely many others have been sent to slaughter once they could no longer pull carriages, only to be replaced by other horses who in turn are eventually sent to slaughter - a cycle of death. Meanwhile, reputable sanctuaries like Catskill Animal Sanctuary in upstate NY is eager to rescue these horses. We don't have to tolerate this type of institutional exploitation for the sake of entertainment and profit, especially in light of viable alternative sources of preserving if not enhancing the economic benefits.

Most basic to your article, you left out the idea that we are not bound by our past. We can adopt new ideas of what is acceptable or desirable economic practice. We have put an end to many "traditions" deemed inhumane. The United States abolished slavery. Barcelona recently banned bullfighting. In fact, this is an issue in many other cities as well. The article failed to mention that Tel Aviv has banned horse drawn carriages. This was done for the same reasons New Yorkers seek a ban, because it is what's right for the horses, and better for New York City. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3799424,00.html

We can value animals without using them for entertainment - placing them behind bars, or pulling carriages. As an urban wildlife enthusiast, I can tell you that horses are not the only animals in New York City. We are fortunate that our city still provides a robust and vital habitat for wildlife, many animals we can visit just by going to the park - geese, ducks, and swans, other waterfowl in our parks, migrating songbirds, to name a few. More understanding, appreciation, and protection to the wildlife that we share our city with is needed.

Animal advocates plead with an apathetic Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Quinn for more than a decade facts didn't matter - hopefully Mayor de Blasio will fulfill his promise to end horse drawn carriages in NYC, indeed, one of the main reasons many of us elected him.

I am appalled that this piece did not even mention the reasons Mayor de Blasio and other rational and compassionate people are pushing for a ban on the horse-drawn carriage industry. These horses, many of them former draft or racehorses, doing a second lifetime of work for man, work 9 hours a day, 7 days a week, in all temperature extremes, with very minimal restrictions and no consideration for wind-chill or humidity. They get no turnout time, and often don’t get a drop of water in winter, when the troughs freeze solid. So, while Ariel claims (in a manipulative reference to a Talmudic imperative) that he feeds his horse before he feeds himself, I assure you that especially in winter, when we’ve heartbreakingly witnessed the horses trying to lick ice in the street, his horse is not getting adequately watered (which is even more important than food). At the end of their exhausting day, the horses struggle through chaotic and unyielding NYC traffic, and often get startled and dart, resulting in accidents in which both people and horses get hurt (or worse). If they don’t drop dead from illness or exhaustion, when they are no longer useful to the industry, they are often sold at auctions, sometimes ending up dying a horrifically painful death in a slaughterhouse. That is their “reward” for their lifetime(s) of work for man. All this is a flagrant violation of tsa’ar ba’alei chaim, and cannot possibly be acceptable according to our Jewish values. It’s time that this outdated, unsafe, and cruel industry be banned and the horses sent to sanctuaries to live out their lives with dignity and in peace.

A draft horse is a breed not a vocation. Therefore the horses do not cease being drafts when they come off the farms. Your statements are opinions not based in facts that you can even find here in this article. Perhaps then it can be assumed you are unfamiliar with what horses will pick up or lick off the ground? I've been fortunate enough to have horses for 50 years of my life and can assure you some horses actually enjoy the cold snow. I even had one horse that would walk into streams to catch fish, he didn't eat them, he would bite and toss them about. Horses do not live in climate controlled environments and in the wild typically only live about 8 years. I've had a horse that lived to 35 that can be attributed to farrier and veterinary care.
The reality is that the horses are retired at the cost of the drivers because they are our partners not merely engines.
Perhaps your opinions are formed from Animal Rights literature? If so I highly encourage you to research much deeper to find out that PETA is based on the teachings of Peter Singer, a learned professor who is also pro eugenics.

Your indignation is misplaced. The horses deserve their place in NYC. They are well cared for, as everyone who has investigated has testified to. The horses are kept under a microscope because of the moneyed interests that would benefit from sending them to slaughter (do not kid yourself that there is an idyllic retirement awaiting them; there aren't enough rescues to take in that many horses) freeing the real estate for lucrative development. If you believe that the horses are being ill used without having gone to see for yourself the stables where they are housed or the care that they receive, you are being used as a dupe for the benefit of wealthy real estate interests and politicians.

Marguerite, you are correct-Rina's concerns are cut and pasted from the mantra of the Animal Right's distortions and lies, who also benefit from her donations (Less than 1% of which go directly to care for deserving animals in true need of assistance)

Ms. Deych, I smell smoke. Check your pants.

It's so disturbing and disappointing to see the false witness presented here by someone who pretends Jewish values.
The NYC horses are tucked into their comfortable stables during extremes of weather, unlike their country cousins. Not getting a drop of water in the winter is a flagrant untruth, both Central Park troughs are winterized and run during the winter, and even if they were frozen the drivers all carry buckets for water. To see a horse trying to lick ice, or nosing a fresh snowbank is NO justification for the lie that they never get watered; how could Ms. Deych know unless she followed the horses all day? The horses aren't "exhausted", they easily pull a carriage around the Park at a walk several times a day. They don't struggle through traffic, they have the right of way and are completely acclimated to it. I think Ms. Deych can find NO examples of a horse getting startled and darting while in traffic. A few accidents have happened, but accidents happen with horses everywhere, and statistics show the horses are safer in NYC than out of it. Not one horse in recent memory has dropped dead of anything other than the same thing that would have caused him or her to drop dead at pasture. As for the auctions, two former NY horses out of many thousands found themselves at auction, neither sent by their NY owners. Neither horse was slaughtered - both are comfortably retired.
I don't know the name of the specific Talmudic imperatives that were disregarded here, but I do know untruth when I see it.

I am appalled at the many false accusations you have made against this driver and the other carriage drivers of the city. Show the actual statistics. Three horses in 30 years that have died as a result of an auto accident is impressive considering the number of trips they have made in 30 years. Far more pedestrians die from auto accidents on a yearly basis. According to equine vets the horses are well cared for and in good shape. The horses are not dropping from exhaustion and illness. Again, show your statistics proving this claim. Show the number of citations for animal cruelty over the past 30 years. And, their reward for a lifetime of service can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/RogertheNYCCarriageHorse Meet poor, tired worn-out Roger as he trots and canters through the field at his retirement home. For someone who appears to have a knowledge of the Talmud, you appear to be having a problem with one of the commandments.

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