Media Coverage 


NY TIMES  
4/4/08


Public Lives  
Battling to Retain a Touch of the 19th Century  
By ROBIN FINN

Follow the faint odor of all things equine to the double set of garage doors at 522 West 45th Street. Peek into the dim, shivery insides of a decommissioned firehouse reborn as Shamrock Stables, one of five home bases to New York City’s historic but endangered horse-and-carriage trade. The danger faced by these 220 urban beasts of burden and the 293 drivers licensed to pilot their carriages? Pink slips from the city.

A disparate coalition that includes the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the agency that polices the horse-and-carriage industry), the pop singer Pink, and City Councilman Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat and mayoral candidate, wants the industry, a scenic city fixture for 136 years, banned.

Just say nay to the horse-and-carriage business because it is inhumane and a safety hazard (seven accidents, and two traffic-related horse deaths in the last three years) is the general drift of their protests and billboard campaigns. Mr. Avella has introduced various bills aimed at the industry — his first version simply called for carriage horses to be restricted to Central Park; his latest insists they should be put out to pasture altogether. So as not to be accused of inhumanity to the humans involved, he suggests that the drivers be retrained as taxi drivers or chauffeurs of a fleet of antique cars that could become the tourist vehicle of choice. An old car instead of a horse?

The industry’s most passionate practitioner, Ian McKeever, a co-owner of this stable since 2001 and a licensed carriage driver since dropping out of college in 1987, is eager to roll out his long-winded rebuttal with the welcome mat.

Well, not quite a welcome mat. A shaky chair rolled across the cement floor, and an admonition to watch where one steps is more like it.

Healthy, happy, citified horses — 30 of them, including his best friend, Roger, occupy the box stalls here when they aren’t hauling tourists through Central Park at $34 a trip — are the work partners that the Irish-born Mr. McKeever, a goateed string bean of 39, is showcasing. “We may be a 19th-century business in a 21st-century society,” he says, “but we’re a business that’s been here 136 years: We’re as famous as the Empire State Building. We hold New York City’s most important commodity in the palm of our hands: the tourist industry. We’re like a gateway to the city, a kind of welcoming committee. Even actual New Yorkers love seeing our horses. Our horses love the attention; they love to go to work.”

THE horses typically work a 35-hour week, in seven-hour shifts regulated by the A.S.P.C.A., the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Consumer Affairs. That beats the 7-day, 12-hour shifts they worked pulling plows and whatnot for the Amish in Pennsylvania, he insists. “We treat our horses like gold,” he adds, “because that’s how valuable they are to us.”

Apparently having kissed the Blarney Stone, Mr. McKeever, who grew up on his parents’ horse farm in County Meath above Dublin, seems an appropriate spokesman for the hastily mobilized, and increasingly indignant, Horse and Carriage Association.

“I consider myself an animal welfare activist; my feeling about these animal rights people is that they don’t want to hear about the compassionate side of me,” he says. “They’ve put out so many falsehoods that our association is becoming emboldened because we know the truth is on our side. So is Mayor Bloomberg.” So is Councilman James F. Gennaro, who supports raising the base price of a carriage ride to $54 from $34.

But not Mr. Avella, who’s running for mayor in 2009. In a telephone interview, Mr. Avella reiterated his position against the industry, calling it “ludicrous” for carriage horses to be mixing with city traffic and saying Mr. Gennaro “should be ashamed of himself.”

“If he becomes mayor, I’ll move all my horses back to Ireland,” sputters Mr. McKeever, who owns nine. “My feeling is he’s picked a controversial topic to get his name in the papers because he’s running for mayor. Besides, what does he know about horses?”

Mr. McKeever knows plenty. He grew up riding and grooming the dozen horses, mostly hunters, on his parents’ farm, but his first love was basketball, and he played for several national youth teams. At 17, he moved to New Jersey after receiving a basketball scholarship to the Saddle River Day School; next came a scholarship to Worcester State College, but he left after his freshman year and moved, jobless, to New York City.

His Irish girlfriend, Geraldine Glennon, put him in contact with a horse-and-carriage owner. “It was the best thing she’s ever done for me,” he says. His first night on the job, he was driving four female tourists through the park when a naked man ran out from behind a shrub, circled the carriage and disappeared. He told them the sideshow would be $10 extra. Another night, a man who had been stabbed leaped into the carriage with his stunned customers; he called 911. Twice in 20 years, he has had minor fender-benders with cars; he calls the death of Smoothie, the horse spooked by an amplified drum on Central Park South in September, an anomaly. “Our industry has an impeccable safety record.”

Now married with three children, he and Geraldine live in Bellmore on Long Island. His horse Roger is so much a family member that when he is retired in three years, at 17, he will move to Long Island rather than the six-acre farm Mr. McKeever leases in Pennsylvania. His horses “vacation” there three or four months each year. Yes, really.



Coalition To Ban
Horse-Drawn Carriages


A Committee of the Coalition For New York City Animals, Inc.


Contact:
The Coalition for
NYC Animals, Inc.

P.O. Box 20247
Park West Station
New York, NY 10025

e-mail
Coalition@banhdc.org



To honor
Bobby II Freedom
previously known as Billy
ID# 2873 rescued by the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Equine Advocates on June 25, 2010 from the New Holland auctions.


In memory of
Lilly Rose O'Reilly
previously known
as Dada ID# 2711
R.I.P.August, 2007