NYC horse carriage driver’s arrest renews calls for industry reform

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By Dan Sears

An animal abuse charge brought against a New York City horse carriage driver by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has renewed calls from advocates and elected officials to do away with horse-drawn carriages in New York City altogether.

Ian McKeever, 54, was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court Wednesday in a misdemeanor complaint with one count of overdriving, torturing and injuring animals and failure to provide proper sustenance in connection to the collapse of carriage horse Ryder last summer, according to the DA’s office.

On Wednesday, Councilmember Bob Holden, who introduced a bill last year to ban horse carriages and replace them with electric ones, said he believes the problem extends beyond just one driver.

“The fact that we treat our beautiful horses this way, make them work and pull thousands of pounds of people and carriages around for some tourists is, again, disgraceful,” Holden told Gothamist on Wednesday. “Unfortunately many councilmembers have not signed on to my bill because they’re in the pockets of these unions and they care a little about animal abuse and they care a little about the industry.”

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Holden introduced legislation last year along with 18 co-sponsors aiming to block new horse carriage licenses and replace them with horseless electric vehicles instead. It would be the most significant law affecting the industry since the City Council passed legislation in 2019 making it illegal for horse-drawn carriages to operate when temperatures reach 90 degrees or above, or whenever the air temperature is 80 degrees or above and the equine heat index is at 150 or above.

Animal rights activists like Edita Birnkrant, executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, was at McKeever’s arraignment. She said she was glad to see animal abuse taken seriously by prosecutors, but believes the problem extends beyond just one driver.

“Ryder only got the worldwide attention and this charge is only happening because he collapsed on the street in front of the world [and] the video we put out went viral,” she said in an interview. “There was outrage generated. It was extraordinary circumstances, but this is business as usual for this carriage business.”

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Officials for the Transit Workers Union, which represents the drivers, said improvements to the industry have been made since Ryder’s collapse, including independent inspections of horses and stables and the revival of a rental horse advisory board with the goal of advising the health commissioner on horse related matters.

Christina Hansen, a spokesperson for horse-carriage drivers and chief shop steward with the union, said the improvements fall under the union’s “pro-horse” HEART platform — Health, Enforcement, Accountability, Regulations, Training — created after Ryder’s collapse.

“Our horses can’t sneeze without them renewing calls for bans on horse carriages,” she said. “This is obviously a situation where the system works. There are regulations, there are laws. This has been investigated by the DA’s office. The process is working within the union and within the industry.”

Holden said the Council did not hear his bill this session and he plans to reintroduce a more pointed version in January, this time with no electric carriages to replace the horses.

“The new bill will not have any replacement for the horses. That means there’ll be no electric carriages, because that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere,” he said. “So I’m gonna change the bill and just do away with the horse carriage industry in New York City. Like other cities have done around the country and around the world.”

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