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NYC Carriage Horses Get Vacation, Larger Stalls

The city's famous carriage horses must have larger stalls, five weeks off per year and blankets in cold and wet weather under a package of new regulations for the industry passed by the City Council on Wednesday.

Carriages also must be equipped with manure-catching devices, and rides, whose rates hadn't changed for more than 20 years, will be more expensive — rising from $34 for the first half-hour to $50 for the first 20 minutes.

The bill's sponsor, Councilman James Gennaro, said the changes protect horses and drivers and make carriage rides "an even better experience for New Yorkers and tourists who come from around the world to see Central Park from an open carriage provided by this iconic industry."

The legislation regulating Central Park's carriage horses — which have been featured in films and television shows such as "Seinfeld" and "Sex and the City" — was a long time in the making. The city first enacted regulations for horse-drawn carriages in the 1980s, and they were last updated in 1994.

Animal welfare advocates, arguing that New York City's carriage horses endure poor living and working conditions, have campaigned to shut down the industry, but city officials and others argue the horses are treated well and are a unique attraction crucial to the city's tourism.

The health department said at a City Council hearing this year that there were 202 licensed carriage horses, 68 licensed carriages, 284 licensed drivers and 19 commercial stables in the city.

A bill that proposed banning horse carriages was introduced in 2007 after a horse spooked by street musicians with drums bolted down Central Park South and crashed into a car. The horse had to be euthanized. It was the second such incident in less than two years.

Those and other horse-drawn carriage accidents in recent years raised concerns about whether horses should be mixing with midtown Manhattan traffic.

The legislation contains several new safety provisions, including requiring emergency brakes and reflective material on carriages and more training for drivers.

Drivers on Wednesday applauded many of the changes, including the rate increase, which they said will pad their pockets.

"The price has been the same for at least 20 years. Inflation hasn't stood still," said Colm Glennon, a driver for 15 years.

The legislation now allows for rates to be adjusted for inflation every three years.

Many of the regulations in the bill address conditions that had previously gone unregulated. There had been no size requirements for stalls, which now must be at least 60 square feet and at least 7 feet wide, enough for a horse to turn around and lie down.

Horses had previously been given 15-minute breaks for every two hours of work but had not been required to take vacation from work.

"If you don't have laws regulating it, there will always be certain people who just won't do it," said Gareth Smith, a driver for five years.

The bill also requires that working horses cannot be younger than 5 years or older than 26 years.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the bill and is expected to sign it.

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