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Animal Rights Activists Protest NYC Horse Carriages After Accident Near Plaza Hotel

'Spartacus' Back At Midtown Stable With Clean Bill Of Health, But Debate Rages On

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Animal rights activists were protesting the city’s horse-drawn carriage industry on Thursday following an accident near the Plaza Hotel a day earlier.

A bus startled a horse and it fell over on the sidewalk, becoming pinned to the ground by its carriage Wednesday, according to a tourist from Oklahoma who provided CBS 2 with photos of the incident.

The tourist claimed the horse was made to continue working even though it was limping.

A carriage driver on the scene of accident disputed the tourist’s account of what happened.

“He did not spook. He did not collapse. Contrary to rumors, he was not startled by a bus. There was no bus on 59th Street at the time,” said carriage driver Christina Hansen. “We are very happy Spartacus is fine.”

“A horse parked at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street unexpectedly pulled out, catching the back wheel of the carriage on the back wheel of the carriage in front of it. The tangle pushed the second carriage over, which caused 15-year-old carriage horse Spartacus to lose his footing and fall to the sidewalk,” the group Historic Horse-Drawn Carriages of Central Park said in a statement.

Animal rights activists protest horse-drawn carriage industry on April 24, 2014. (credit: Al Jones/1010 WINS)

Animal rights activists protest horse-drawn carriage industry on April 24, 2014. (credit: Al Jones/1010 WINS)

“Several carriage drivers immediately came to the horse’s aid, keeping him calm and laying down while they unharnessed him, got him untangled and righted the lightweight carriage before safely allowing him to get to his feet. Unharmed, Spartacus was reharnessed and rehitched to the carriage,” the group said, adding he then went directly to his stable to await the vet.

“To the onlooker, the longer the horse is down, the worse it looks to the layperson, but to the horse professional, you must take all the time you need to ensure all harness is free so the horse is not fighting against it getting up,” said carriage driver Colm McKeever.

Spartacus was back at his Midtown stable on Thursday with a clean bill of health, CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown reported.

However, opponents of the horse-carriage industry said the accident highlights the dangers to horses — and humans.

“Horses and traffic do not mix,” said Alie Feldman of anti-horse carriage group NYCLASS.

The accident comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio looks to ban horse-drawn carriages in the city and replace them with electric vintage-style vehicles dubbed “E-Carriages.”

“A horse in the middle of the streets of Midtown doesn’t belong,” de Blasio said on April 11. “I think a humane society doesn’t do that to animals and we have an alternative where we’ll have an opportunity for tourists to have a similar experience but without horses being a part of it.”

De Blasio wanted to ban the horses during his first week in office, but earlier this month he said he expects the City Council to ban the practice by year’s end.

Carriage horse owner Anita Gerami said the iconic carriage rides are part of Central Park’s appeal.

“I don’t think people want to get out of a car to take a ride in another car,” said Gerami. “People come for the horses, to see them. Without them, I don’t think they would get a tour of Central Park the same way it is now.”

“We’re in the business to stay as horsemen in the carriage industry and that’s what we’re fighting to preserve,” added Stephen Malone of the Horse and Carriage Association of New York City.

In a New York Times editorial last Tuesday, actor Liam Neeson said he sees the proposal “as a class issue” that threatens the livelihoods of carriage drivers and stable hands.

The City Council has not yet introduced the legislation.

Meanwhile, a representative of the carriage horse industry categorically denied a report in the New York Post that city officials are negotiating a deal with carriage owners to give them taxi medallions worth $1 million in exchange for giving up their businesses.

“The subject has not been raised between the industry and the administration, and we are not interested,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “Our members have worked with horses all their lives and have no interest in trading a carriage for a cab. We remain open to working with the administration to find a solution that preserves Central Park’s horse carriage industry.”

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