Just as the sun set last Friday, about 100 people lit up most of 59th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues with a candlelight vigil in tribute, they said, to carriage horses that have either been hurt or killed on city streets and worldwide.
Some held posters that called out Mayor Bill de Blasio on his failure to fulfil campaign and post-election pledges to ban horse-drawn carriages.
“Mayor de Blasio Sold Out the Carriage Horses,” some of the posters read.
The vigil was organized by Elizabeth Forel, who founded the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, which has been fighting for a citywide ban since 2006. The coalition’s vice president, Mary Culpepper said, “We’re here to bring to light the inherent suffering that carriage horses face and express great disappointment in Mayor de Blasio for reneging on his promise.”
Stacey Szewczyk, who held a poster in one hand and her leashed Chihuahua-mix, Nico, in the other, said she was chagrined to see the horses endure as much as they do as they trot among cars and buses year-around.
“It breaks my heart to see these horses in the summer heat and humidity ... breathing in all the car exhausts, and standing and walking in the freezing cold, as well,” she said.
De Blasio, she said, had alienated a core group of supporters. “He and it infuriates me,” she said of his not carrying out his promises. “That is why I for voted him.”
Most carriage horse drivers asked about the vigil and its purpose declined comment for the story but one, Frank Topcu, acknowledged that calamities are part and parcel of his occupation.
“It’s bad, but accidents happen,” he said just after dropping off two women and their children after a ride that concluded near Central Park.
But Topcu, 32, said he had been driving the same horse, Winston, for three years and had not had any accidents in his nine years on the job.
Jennifer Dickens, one of the two women, who visiting from Jacksonville, Florida, said the companions had opted for a carriage ride — their first — in honor of her daughter’s birthday. They all enjoyed the experience, she said.
But Forel countered that making the industry safe or even humane was next to impossible. Citing a litany of shortcomings with the industry, she said that horses are prey animals that can spook easily, which can make them dangerous. She added that carriage horses have no daily turnout to pasture, as they would naturally prefer. She said that 60 to 70 horses fall off the Department of Health rolls, with no accurate record of where they end up.
Natasha Brenner, 93, who made the trip from her home on the Lower East Side to participate in the vigil, said that she too was dismayed by de Blasio failure to carry out his pledge.
“I had to be here to speak up for the horses,” she said while standing with the aid of a cane. “De Blasio has not kept his promise, and I truly hope it doesn’t take a human fatality for him and the City Council to step it up to end this antiquated industry. I hope I can see it end during my lifetime.”
While not yet encouraged that de Blasio would fulfil his assurances, Forel called the vigil a “resounding success.”
“I have a very persistent and tenacious personality and do not give up easily,” she said. “We will continue fighting for these wonderful horses.”