🐴 Philadelphia's horse-drawn carriages have been paused but their fate remains up in the air

🐴 Celebrities, such as Edie Falco of 'The Sopranos,' are pushing for a ban in NYC

🐴 The popular tourist attraction has pitted animal advocates against local businesses

Horse-drawn carriages, a controversial but popular activity in both major cities next to New Jersey — have been halted in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s last carriage tour company has cleared out its stables — for at least the winter.

The discovery was made over the weekend by animal rights activists who had gathered to object to such rides, according to the Revolution Philadelphia Facebook page.

After a couple of days of speculation, 76 Carriage Company posted Monday to Facebook that it had sent its horses on vacation and was moving to a new stable.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the company has not yet filed for an operating license for 2023, adding any new stable site would be pending city inspections.

ARCHIVE images of collapsed carriage horses in 2020 and August 2022 in NYC (NYClass via Twitter)
ARCHIVE images of collapsed carriage horses in 2020 and August 2022 in NYC (NYClass via Twitter)

🐴 NYC horse carriages remain

In New York City, meanwhile, a proposal to replace horse-drawn carriages with electric carriages was being re-introduced with celebrity backing from actress Edie Falco.

The measure, as first introduced by the New York City Council in July, would stop horse-drawn cabs beginning next year while electric carriages would provide trips within Central Park and certain areas of Manhattan.

There are more than 100 horses in three stables and 68 licensed carriages on the West Side of Manhattan, according to Transport Workers Union Local 100, which was blunt about its disinterest in the proposed changes.

“The carriage drivers in New York City have no interest in driving electric ‘horseless carriages’ (cars). Horses simply cannot be replaced by machines, and carriage drivers do this job because we love horses. Nobody wants to pet an ugly ‘e-carriage’ or feed it a carrot or have their picture taken with it,” union Chief Shop Steward Christina Hansen said in a written statement.

She continued “Councilmember Bob Holden's ‘renewed’ effort to eliminate horses repeats the same tired and discredited arguments that [former New York City] Mayor Bill de Blasio used when he tried and failed to ban the carriage horses in 2014. Radical animal rights extremists are working everywhere to break the human-animal bond. They use the exact same false and misleading rhetoric whether attacking carriage horses in New York City or Charleston or San Antonio.”

The union, which represents about 300 horse-carriage drivers and owners who offer tours through Central Park, has said that “no horse has been killed in a traffic accident in the last 15 years.”

While not a traffic accident, a horse did collapse in August on a city street and was seen on video laying for about an hour on the pavement as first responders tended to the animal.

The horse, named Ryder, died roughly two months later at a Hudson Valley farm, according to the New York Times.

In 2020, a different horse stumbled and collapsed in Central Park, also seen in a video clip posted to Twitter. That horse was ultimately euthanized, National Geographic reported.

🐴 Horse carriage reforms or an end to them?

In September, the union unveiled its own proposed plan, calling for New York City to fill an open position for an equine veterinarian to check on the horses' health conditions and for a new stable to be built in Central Park to avoid having the animals “commute” through traffic, according to reports by NY1 and Gothamist.

The union, in turn, has been particularly critical of NYClass, the group whose video share of the August incident went viral, calling them a smokescreen for developers eager for the property where current stables are located.

The executive director of NYCLASS, Edita Birnkrant, has said their goal has been to "end the horrific suffering and dangers the carriage horses endure every day in chaotic Midtown traffic."

"It’s 2023, not 1823. It’s long overdue for NYC Council to pass Ryder’s Law, which would transition unsafe, cruel 19th century horse carriages into safe, cruelty-free 21st century horseless carriages - a successful trend worldwide," Birnkrant said.

She said the proposal to shift to e-carriages is a "win-win," as it "would create better paying jobs for the carriage drivers, with real benefits and worker protections, which they are denied now," while also increasing profits for owners.

🐴 'Philly' horse history

Horse-drawn carriages were reintroduced in Philadelphia in 1976 amid celebrations for the U.S. Bicentennial.

The 76 Carriage Co. became the last stable standing in Philly after city inspectors reached an agreement in 2017 with the Philadelphia Carriage Co., which was found violating building codes and animal welfare laws.

🐴 NYC faces new carriage debate

Just as Philadelphia grapples with an uncertain pause on horse-drawn carriage tours, animal rights supporters have resolved that 2023 will be the year the practice is ended in New York.

“From horse-drawn carriages to e-carriages 2.0” was the name of a webinar set for Wednesday, hosted by the National Lawyers Guild NYC Animal Rights Committee.

The proposed bill, backed by Falco and sponsored by NYC Councilman Robert Holden, has now been dubbed "Ryder's Law," in honor of the horse that died in the fall.

It drew a sharp response on Twitter from John Samuelsen, international president of the Transport Workers Union.

"Bob Holden is a disgrace, demonizing transport worker immigrant blue-collar horse-carriage drivers, trying to score political points," Samuelsen said. "He’s deluded himself, believing that he can run for mayor by partnering with fringe animal rights zealots who equate pony rides to slavery."

🐴 Celebrities push for ban on horse-drawn carriages

Edie Falco was also among a list of celebrities who signed an open letter in the wake of the horse's August collapse, as made public by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Other stars who voiced support in the letter for a ban on horse-drawn carriages were Sadie Sink, Kate Mara and Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Hillary Swank, Billie Eilish, Marisa Tomei, Christopher Walken and others.

“We’re glad to have such celebrity interest in the carriage horses. Instead of supporting a ban that would evict them from NYC, they might want to consider our recently released Big HEART platform, which calls for greater city oversight, enhanced driver training, additional physicals, new weather restrictions – and a state of the art stable in Central Park so the horses don’t have to commute through traffic,” TWU Local 100 said in a previous written statement as cited by Staten Island Live.

The statement, as reported by SILive, continued “This is a pro-horse platform for the city to celebrate, embrace and protect the beloved Central Park carriage horses, and keep the 164-year-old tradition of carriage horses being ambassadors of our great city.”

Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at erin.vogt@townsquaremedia.com

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