It’s Beyond Time to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages in New York City

It’s Beyond Time to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages in New York City

One of this year’s most high-profile stories of animal abuse occurred in August when Ryder — a sickly 26-year-old underweight and sick cart horse mistakenly reported as healthy and 13 years old — collapsed while pulling a cart in Midtown Manhattan. Viral videos of a horse being beaten by its owner and hosed down by police officers brought widespread attention to a long-standing animal rights issue: working horses in crowded and dangerous urban environments. (Ryder was euthanized in October after a cancer diagnosis and a seizure.)

After this incident, Intro 573—a bill proposed in September 2022 calling for a ban on the use of horses in New York City’s carriage industry—was renamed Ryder’s Law. The bill has massive public support: According to one poll, 71% of New Yorkers are on board making horse-drawn carriages a thing of the past. Long working hours, insufficiently stable conditions and neglected record-keeping and regulations are all cited in the argument that the current industry is cruel and in need of modernization.

Why, then, are horses still pulling carriages in Midtown Manhattan today?

In order for Ryder’s law to pass, 26 of New York City’s 51 council members must sign on, and as of this article’s publication date, only 18 have done so. Animal rights organizations such as NYCLASS (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets) and Voters for Animal Rights are currently focused on convincing council members who have verbally expressed support for the bill but have yet to officially signed.

“It’s the toughest, most challenging animal rights issue to tackle in New York City,” Allie Taylor, founder and president of Voters for Animal Rights, tells Treehugger. However, she pointed out, new public outrage over the treatment of carriage horses is prompting council members to pledge their support for the ban.

“Each class of council members that come out, at least since I’ve been involved, has become more and more progressive on animal rights issues,” she says. “I think Ryder’s death was a rallying cry.”


Ryder’s collapse in August is far from the only horse-drawn carriage incident in the past year. Edita Birnkrant, executive director of NYCLASS, estimates at least one accident or disturbance per month in New York City. However, she adds that it is difficult to quantify because there is no requirement to report incidents when they occur.

Past incidents in New York City alone have included collapses due to summer heat, illness, injury, exhaustion, and collisions with vehicles or pedestrians. Because they are prey animals with a heightened flight response, horses are also likely to startle and run away from loud noises in urban environments. And when that happens, as you can imagine, there aren’t many places for horses to find solace on the bustling streets of Manhattan.

“Blinders can only do so much,” Birnkrant tells Treehugger. “There are so many frightening stimuli that can spook a horse at any moment, and it happens all the time. We will not change the conditions of New York City to ever make it humane for these horses. So the only thing that makes sense is modernization [the industry].”

Other areas of concern are the long working hours of the horses and their stable conditions. The New York City government website states that carriage horses must not work more than nine hours a day and that stalls must be at least 60 square feet and provide enough space for the horses to turn around. and lie down. Horses are also given at least five weeks of “holiday” a year somewhere outside the city with daily access to pasture. But even these requirements are insufficient.

“Horses are herd animals,” notes Birnkrant. “They are supposed to have grass pastures, or if not grass, at least patches of land to roam freely to be with other horses.” Instead, the animals are “tied to the cart [with] there is no freedom of movement. Then, they return to these small stalls, again without freedom of movement. They are denied their natural instincts.”

A humane solution

The carriage industry – fueled by tourists and tourists who come to the city throughout the year, and especially in December – can continue without horses. In addition to doing away with horse-drawn carriages, Ryder’s Law proposed low-speed electric carriages to take tourists. These vehicles have already been successfully implemented in other cities that have banned horses, such as Mumbai, India and Guadalajara, Mexico. The Bill also states that the carriage owners will be required to pay the drivers a prevailing wage set by the Controller.

“[eCarriages] would provide a modern, humane and sustainable means of employment for existing trolley drivers,” says Taylor.

This potential change begs the question: What would become of the current carriage horses once they are banned? Ideally, sanctuaries and organizations, such as The Gentle Barn, will place retired carriage horses on farms to heal and live out the rest of their lives. Currently, there are no retirement requirements for carriage horses.

“These cart horses, when they’re rescued, they don’t even know they’re horses,” says Birnkrant. “Just like riding in the grass maybe for the first time, they don’t know how to be with other horses. . . It takes them a while to adjust.”

While animal shelters provide the necessary rehabilitation and care, carriage horses should not have to work themselves sick for the benefit of the tourism industry only to recover at the end of their lives. It’s only a matter of time before the next horse-cart incident.

“[Ryder] he doesn’t have to die in vain,” says Birnkrant. “His story and outrage can help pass Ryder’s Law and prevent future horses from being killed like him.”

What can you do

If you live in New York City:

  • Find and contact your NYC Council member and urge them to co-sponsor Ryder’s Law (Introduction 573) and end horse-drawn carriage abuse. The more people who call out and voice their concern about the city’s carriage horses, the more likely we are to get the support of the NYC council to pass Ryder’s Law.

If you live outside of New York City:

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