Multiple Agendas Revealed in Legal Battle over New York Carriage Horse Industry

Most of you have already read about the heated legal battle over the horse-drawn carriage industry in New York City, where some groups have been pushing for decades to outlaw carriage rides. On its face, the battle seems to be about whether or not the industry is inherently cruel or dangerous for the horses. But more recently, some facts have surfaced pointing to other interests and agendas that may be fueling the push to banish the carriage industry from New York.

Emily B. Hager authored a story published last week in the New York Times that delves into underlying interests of some who are attempting to ban carriage rides in New York City. A link to the article can be found here.

One issue raised in the Times article are allegations of foul play related to the ASPCA’s involvement in the efforts to outlaw the horse-drawn carriage industry. According to Ms. Hager’s article, Dr. Pamela Corey (chief equine veterinarian for the ASPCA), said her supervisors pressured her to distort her findings about the death of a carriage horse in order to turn public opinion against the carriage industry. After Dr. Corey spoke out, the ASPCA suspended her. Dr. Corey has since filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, in which she states that she had been pressured on several occasions to slant her professional opinion to help achieve a ban.

Ms. Hager also points out that while the ASPCA is one of the groups leading the effort to ban horse-drawn carriages, it is also one of three entities that regulate the carriage industry in New York. 

The ASPCA’s president, Ed Sayres, is also reported in the Times to have teamed up with Stephen Nislick, chief executive of the development company Edison Properties, to develop a plan to replace carriage rides with electric-powered replicas of antique cars. Sayres and Nislick are reported to have started a nonprofit organization, known as NY-Class, that has collected more than 55,000 signatures backing city ordinances that would end the carriage horse industry in New York. NY-Class was allegedly started up through a $400,000 donation from the ASPCA and a contribution from Mr. Nislick.

With respect to these potential conflicts of interest, Ed Sayres is quoted in the Times as saying, “I don’t see it as a conflict. If we don’t bring forward the risk factor that we are observing, then it would be negligent.”

Real estate developers (including Mr. Nislick) are alleged to be involved in the movement to outlaw the carriage industry because they covet the land on the Far West Side where the horses have long been stabled.  

According to Ms. Hager’s article, some carriage owners acknowledge carrying out a campaign to infiltrate the activist groups and secretly record their strategy sessions. In one recording, Mr. Nislick is said to describe efforts to gain the support of city politicians by giving them campaign contributions. 

The carriage industry is reported to have filed its own complaints with the city and state agencies against the ASPCA and NY-Class.

The Times article includes some stats on drivers’ earnings, which reportedly range from $40,000 to $100,000 annually, depending primarily on whether they own their horses, whether they work the day or night shift, and how bad the weather and economy are.  If you know how much it costs to live in Manhattan, you know that even $100,000 per year before taxes can be hard to live on there. One would think that the last thing the carriage drivers would want to do is abuse or mistreat their horses if their livelihood depended upon them.

These latest allegations are definitely thought-provoking.  One must wonder whether those who donate money to the ASPCA hoping to fund food, medicine, and shelter for unwanted animals know that the Society has spent at least $400,000 on this political campaign.

Also, should the ASPCA still be one of the regulatory bodies governing the NY carriage industry, given the conflicts and allegations that have now arisen?

Finally, what would happen to the horses if those pushing for a ban were successful? According to Dr. Nena Winand, an equine veterinarian from upstate New York who is a member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, “If we banned the carriage horse industry tomorrow, they would go straight to slaughter. There is no big field out there, there is no one to pay the bills.”

As discussed in this prior post, mistreatment of or cruelty to horses is already illegal in State of New York. Given these latest allegations, this fact does cause one to ponder whether animal welfare is the real impetus behind the movement to outlaw the carriage industry in New York City.