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By Heidi Singer and David Andreatta - NY POST – January 7, 2006

Animal-control authorities slapped hansom-cab drivers and horse and stable owners with violations ranging from poor animal treatment to erratic driving an average of once every five days last year. Officials with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the 76 summonses issued by the organization — one of three Manhattan streets. The task was underscored on Monday by a hansom-cab crash that left carriage driver Carmelo Vargas hospitalized in critical condition and forced veterinarians to put down the horse.

"Horses and traffic are an accident waiting to happen, and when one does, it's horrific," said Edward Sayres, president of the ASPCA, which is lobbying to restrict the carriage rides and stables to Central Park. "At some point, the horses will be confined to Central Park, because the program cannot function in high-traffic zones," Sayres added. "We'd like to see that day come sooner or later." But the organization's longtime effort to ban horses from city streets have been thwarted by tradition and the delight tourists take in seeing horses trotting alongside traffic with an old-fashioned carriage in tow. The fact that relatively few accidents have taken place has also muted the argument to restrict horses to the park. In the most recent accident, the horse became spooked while pulling a carriage to a West Side stable and galloped six blocks before colliding with a car —breaking its leg and sending the carriage driver flying. Carriage drivers insist the regulations should remain as is — with horses permitted to pull carriages in the park or on adjacent streets between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. Drivers chalked up the crash to inexperience and predicted there would be no financial fallout. "You need a certain amount of experience driving horses, and if you put a complete novice out there, you're asking for problems," said one driver who spoke on condition of anonymity. There are 68 licensed hansom cabs and 360 licensed carriage drivers in the city. They are overseen by the city departments of Health and Consumer Affairs, as well as the ASPCA. The number of horses in the program hovers around 175, according to the ASPCA. Last year, two horses ran loose in traffic after a driver hit their coach. In 2003, two cabs carrying passengers toppled after their horses bolted.

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