Carriage horse accident adds heat to debate

An animal fell in traffic, and protestors rallied at the site.

Protesters rallied against the city’s horse carriage industry Thursday in front of Central Park where one of the animals fell over the day before.

The incident added fuel to the smoldering fight between supporters of the industry and the animal activists and politicians that oppose it. Even accounts of Wednesday’s accident differ.

A man from Oklahoma who said he witnessed the event reached out to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said Ashley Byrne, a spokeswoman for the group. He said a bus drove close to the carriage, spooking the horse who began to buck and run, she said.

Byrne said the carriage then tipped over and pinned the horse to the ground near 59th Street. The horse wasn’t injured, according to its owner.

“This is more tragic evidence of why it is time to take these dangerous, cruel carriages off the streets of New York City,” Byrne said. “Cars don’t spook, carriages do. This will happen again.”

The animal’s owner, Tony Salerno, however, and a fellow carriage driver, Christina Hanser, gave a different version of the horse’s fall.

Christina Hansen, said she helped to calm the 15-year-old horse, named Spartacus, who has been working in New York for about a decade, after he went down.

Hansen said an unattended horse that was not tied to a pole pulled out from behind, clipping the back wheel of Spartacus’ carriage. He then went up on the sidewalk, tipping the carriage over. She said there was no bus involved.

Allie Feldman, executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, or NYCLASS, a leading carriage industry opponent, said Salerno was more interested in saving his carriage than his horse. Salerno said he could have gotten Spartacus up “in two seconds but we want to do [it] professionally and we want to do the right thing.” If Spartacus had gotten up too quickly he could have been injured, Hansen said.

“We keep the horse down, we keep the head down,” said Salerno, who held a carrot in his mouth and fed it to his horse. “Every time we try to do something good and professional we look bad.”

Salerno said his horse was evaluated by a veterinarian and given a clean bill of health. Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to end the era of horse-drawn carriages in the city.

“The one yesterday was not the first one — it was one in a long line of accidents,” said de Blasio Thuersday at an unrelated event. “And it’s for a very simple reason — horses don’t belong on the streets of New York City.

“There’ve been many others. Sadly, there will continue to be until we make this reform and end the use of horse carriages in the city,” he added.

Celebrities have thrown their hats into the debate, with many voicing opposition for the carriage industry. The latest to publicly back a ban is actress Kristin Chenoweth who tweeted her support Thursday. Actor Liam Neeson has become a face for the pro-carriage movement and spoken out against the mayor’s promised ban.

The Department of Consumer Affairs, which issues carriage drivers licences, referred all inquiries to the health department. Several phone calls and e-mails requesting comment were not returned by the health department, which regulates conditions for the horses, in time for deadline Thursday evening.

A spokesman for the New York City Department for Health and Mental Hygiene said the horse was “evaluated, as appropriate, by a veterinarian hired by the operator, and by a Health Department veterinarian. The horse was not injured.”?

With Dan Rivoli and Matthew Chayes

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