New York City Carriage Horse Falls Near Central Park, Reigniting Old Debate

PHOTO: Another New York carriage horse falls falls to the ground, activists say holiday horses are overworked during the season, Dec. 4, 2011.
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The debate over whether carriage horses should be working Manhattan streets has been revived after one fell to its side across the street from New York City's Plaza Hotel this weekend.

Although the horse was helped to its feet and was generally described as fine, an animal-rights activist who videotaped the incident and posted the video online said horses were being overworked during the holidays, among other accusations.

It's the latest skirmish in a long war over whether New York carriage rides are a beloved -- and tightly regulated -- tradition or an inhumane use of horses in a setting inhospitable to their well-being.

Mary Xanthos, 42, is a small-animal veterinarian and an organizer for Win Animal Rights, which holds weekly protests of carriage rides every Sunday afternoon near where the horse fell.

Xanthos said the horse seemed fine after the fall and wasn't returned to use, in accordance with regulations pertaining to horses that fall. This was the only horse fall she had seen herself, she said. Win Animal Rights had been protesting weekly for more than three years, she said.

What she did see on Sunday was that horses weren't getting breaks, which they are supposed to get under city regulations, she said.

"They are working these horses heavily," she said. "One brown horse was profusely foaming at the mouth, and he still gave rides."

The foaming could signal a simple bit problem but it could also be from dehydration, she said, adding that "the water trough on Central Park South was empty and filled with garbage."

"I think the [American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] needs to be out there [more]," she said. "The [ASPCA] car drove by but didn't stop once."

The ASPCA is one of the entities charged by the city to oversee the carriage horse operation and enforce its regulations.

Scoffing at the notion that if the horses were suffering they wouldn't keep pulling the carriages or even leave their stalls, Xanthos said, "They're domestic animals who've been working their whole lives. That doesn't mean they enjoy the work and it's appropriate to put them in harm's way to make money."

Xanthos and her group want to ban the carriages, she said.

"There are things about New York City that can't be changed to make [carriages] humane," she said, citing traffic, concrete, and their being housed many blocks away from where they work.

Xanthos praised the regulation giving carriage horses several weeks of vacation in the summer, but criticized the lack of daily turnout in pasture, which would help maintain horses' "psychological well-being."

"I don't see enforcement of the regulations," she said. "In two hours I saw at least 20 instances where I could give citations."

The Carriage Horse Operators Respond

"Horses trip and fall, and there's nothing abusive or sinister about that," said Stephen Malone, spokesman for Carriage Horse Association of New York.

Malone said every horse has a break at least every two hours for at least 15 minutes, in accordance with regulations. There were two water troughs in Central Park, and there was water in the stalls all the time, he said.

Malone said no violations have been filed to support critics' claims of ill-treatment of horses.

"The ASPCA has done 180 inspections this year," he said. "Show me a hotel or restaurant under the same level of restrictions and monitoring. It's incredible."

Eva Hughes, vice president of the association, said that as a small animal vet, Xanthos was "definitely not an authority" on horses. Hughes added she would be happy to have an equine veterinarian or ABC News evaluate her horses, which are housed at Clinton Park Stables, on West 52nd Street.

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