It is said,"There are three sides to every story, yours, mine, and the truth", so I set out with my camera, in search of all three.
After 10 months of filming New York's Greatest Living Icons, the gentle carriage horses, those who love them... and those who hate them, I can say, without equivocation, there is no abuse, no cruelty of any kind, only love...and lots of carrots.
"Carriage horses are among the best cared for horses in the world and a park institution for 150 years." Tweets, Adrian Benepe, former New York City Park's Commissioner. The Incredible Dr Pol, the 'veterinarian's, veterinarian' said on a recent, impromptu visit to the stables, "I'm very impressed, I wish private owners would take care of horses as good as they do here."
"I think it's a beautiful thing and I think they should be here for the next 200 years," he told The News. "I would definitely say that the horses should stay in Central Park."
A Tail of Two Cities
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, between those who know everything about horses, and those who know nothing.
I used to think all animal lovers were the same. I was wrong.
Far from the deep pocketed, real estate lobbyists, paid political operatives, animal rights extremists and gala goers, who elected New York's first "animal loving" Mayor, (who doesn't own a pet and dropped the Groundhog ), a vicious battle is being waged in the streets, and in the cowardice of anonymity, afforded by the internet, with a single, dark agenda, to destroy the 156 year old horse drawn carriage industry.
Once, ALL working horses are, banished from the streets of New York, it's on to Chicago, then Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, St Louis, London, Toronto and Paris...your Fois Gras, Dumbo, and... your dog Spot.
And for no particular reason, other than, "It's over", sending 300 hard working men and women onto the street, small business owners, many of them immigrants, for whom the American dream is vital to the fabric of this city, sentencing 220 content and well cared for horses, to a dire and uncertain fate, with no empirical evidence of abuse, in an industry regulated by no less than 5 different agencies, and is the third biggest tourist attraction, generating over $19 million a year.
"Come to the stables Mr Mayor, meet the drivers and talk to the horses, how can you ban something you've never seen?"
"They Know How I Love That Horse"~Driver Tony Salerno and Spartacus Respond to NYCLASS and PETA False Accusations.
The Mayor's intransigence, refusing Liam Neeson's "very particular set of skills", to see the stable conditions for himself, eschewing the mandate of millions, in a recent Quinnipiac Poll, "New Yorkers like horses 2-1, but mixed on Ferrets", more puzzling still, radio silence regarding any dialogue for possible solutions, his mind, apparently made up, by his biggest campaign donors,...is tantamount to tyranny.
"There Must Be A Pony In Here Somewhere"
Perhaps, his denial is willful ignorance, is to save him the embarrassment, of having to admit he was wrong, or perhaps he actually believed NYCLASS when they said, "Nearly 40 pro-animal City Councilors were elected in November."
"Mayor de Blasio should not ban horse-drawn carriages, voters say 61 - 25 percent. There is no party, gender, age, race or borough group in favor of the ban. Opposition to the ban tops 2-1 for the fourth Quinnipiac University poll in a row."
And, if he's never been to the stables, or dialogue with anyone,what on earth is he talking about, or is this just PR spin appeasing his supporters?
"I think when more and more of the public experience what I experienced, and hear the truth about what's going on with horses in the middle of the biggest city in the country, in the middle of Midtown traffic, I think a lot of people are going to change their minds."
Perhaps, there is a more sinister plot, a hoof.
"The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, was to convince the world, he didn't exist" ~Keyser Söze "The Usual Suspects"
"The animal rights argument is being used to lull the mayor into sympathetic alliance with the builder Steve Nislick who wants to grab the stables for yet another of his high rise developments. This is the same Steve Nislick of Edison Development and Manhattan Mini-Storage who attempted to block construction of the High Line."~Barry Benepe, WestView News
"Among the biggest beneficiaries of independent spending, both directly and indirectly, was Mayor Bill de Blasio. In the Democratic primary, the early front-runner, Christine C. Quinn, faced a deluge of negative ads from groups that included, New York City Is Not For Sale, which spent $856,762 opposing her.
One of the group's main supporters was an animal rights group that called for the removal of horse-drawn carriages from Central Park -- and loudly criticized Ms. Quinn for refusing to support a ban, as others, including Mr. de Blasio, did. New York Times, September 1, 2014
"It's Not About the Horses" ~Neil Byrne, Second Generation Carriage Driver, Owns Stable In Heart of Hudson Yards
"Where is the murderous, lying, Mayor we bought?" they Tweet and Facebook. "A true politician trying to worm his way out of his promise. He will go down as the biggest liar as a Mayor of NYC. He has no shame."
But, if wishes were horses, and there was a modicum of truth to Mayor de Blasio's campaign pledge, "We are going to get rid of horse carriages first day in office, period... the practice is inhumane", the horse drawn carriage ban would be done and dusted, we'd all be chugging around Central Park in $175,000 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang electric cars, and a few Saudi princes would be living in their, recently rezoned, 72 story high Pied a Terre's, where the three story stables once stood, in what is the "biggest real estate development in US history."
"Follow The Money" ~Deep Throat, "All The President's Men"
But you can't just take people's jobs away, personal property (the horses), private businesses (the stables), owned for generations, for no reason...unless of course, you make one up, but who would believe it?
Who would buy into the hair brained scheme, that the horse carriage industry is in collusion, to buy 220 horses, care for them, give them cute names like Pumpkin,Tickles, and Spartacus, feed them oats and thousands of pounds of carrots, clean them, shoe them, board them, vet bills, groom them, tack, bridles traces...just so they can abuse them?
"An extremist is someone who not only prizes one value above all others, but to the exclusion of all others." ~ Patti Strand, "The Hijacking of the Humane Movement: Animal Extremism"
Even more baffling, how is it possible, the Mayor, a clandestine cabal of crony cash cows and a handful of radical animal extremists in the streets (no more than 40 on any given day) can take hostage, the will of millions?
Millions of New Yorkers are against his ban, almost three to one, in the 4th Quinnipiac Poll, New York City Central Labor Council representing 1.3 million workers in NYC, Teamsters Joint Council 16 representing 120,000, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (national) representing 1.4 million workers, 76 percent of Manhattan Chamber of Commerce small business owners, the op ed pages of the New York Times, the Daily News, Crain's New York, and, the New York Post, as well as, 40,000 hand signed and delivered Daily News "Save Our Horses" petitions, greeted with cold ambivalence by a very pregnant aide, while the Mayor hunkered in his office. Liam Neeson's "Carriages Belong In Central Park", op ed in the New York Times, and Mary Higgins Clark agrees her 'neighbors' are part of New York. And, The Amazing Kreskin wants to read his mind when he asks, "Was there any money involved in your decision?"
And, in a stunning irony, the Mayor's, one trick pony argument, recently backfired, when the influential Working Families Party, (his peeps), who endorsed, not only Hizzoner, but two thirds of the City Council, on whose plate the ban has fallen, came out in support of the carriage industry.
"We stand in solidarity with horse-carriage workers who play a pivotal role in generating millions of dollars in revenue as one of the top three tourist attractions in the city," Party State Director Bill Lipton wrote.
"Who You Gonna Believe, Me, Or Your Lying Eyes?"
Every Sunday. across from the Plaza Hotel, a handful of sincere, true believers, gather beneath the glorious golden effigy of the "finest equestrian statue in the world", that of, General William Tecumseh Sherman, astride his 'abused' War Horse.
For years, they stand there, in heat and in snow, brandishing evidence of abuse, slick, PETA Porn propaganda posters, of nameless, fallen horses and when you question them, this happens this and they fold faster than the Wicked Witch of the West, in an Ice Bucket Challenge.
They are blinded and bound by their mutual hatred of the carriage industry and threatened by anything that contradicts the anthropomorphic projection of their own misery onto the faces of the "poor horses". They vilify any impediment to their life's purpose, to free the enslaved horses. This self identified NYCLASS supporter believes it is better to euthanize the horses, to save thousands in the future. "This is no life."
They do everything they accuse the drivers of, they shout obscenities, dehumanize, bully, taunt, belittle, entrap and terrorize the drivers, and their passengers, they yell "Children Have Died" to actual children.
Christine Quinn was so severely harassed, she had to stop publicizing her appearances. They did it to Liam Neeson, and a woman showed up at his apartment in a horse suit. They will believe anything they're told if it furthers their mission. One frothing protestor broke into a private screening and screamed at a 15 year old giving a presentation. Or, sometimes their supporters just hit you.
They are the foot soldiers, the bloc of 'single issue voters', to whom de Blasio is indebted, in the lowest turnout in my 70 years, just 18% of registered voters. They are an alphabet soup of not for profit, acronyms. They pretty much try and distance themselves from, and don't like being associated with each other...except, when they need bodies, like at Liam Neeson's apartment, or on the steps of City Hall with PETA, bragging about foreign cities in which, horse carriages have been banned, except it's not true.
Anybody who is for keeping the horse carriages in Central Park, is supporting animal cruelty. Liam Neeson is a "washed up actor", Dr Pol is a "quack", Victor de Souza is a 'so called designer" to Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, and I'm an "animal abuser" and "pro carriage industry troll."
And, this week, when designer-to-the-stars, Victor de Souza, launches Fashion Week having his models don couture gowns and ride in horse drawn carriages, the fairy tale scenario has them positively apoplectic, because 'glam' is PETA's domain.
"Let Them Shovel Manure"
In one of those Marie Antoinette moments you couldn't script, the night Chris Rock was bringing down the house with his jokes about losing his job, shoveling 'manure' at the stables because of de Blasio's horse carriage ban, at the Inner Circle Dinner, and NYCLASS was tweeting about really making it when their doing jokes about the carriages...
Across town on the crisp March evening, a sacred gathering of the drivers and their horse carriages, at Cherry Hill Fountain, the Native American Elders with a message from Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations, it was a sombre and deeply spiritual horse blessing ceremony, with a prayer for the Horse Nation in times of crisis, one of the elders had a message for Mayor de Blasio...
"Mayor de Blasio, what is done without honor, will not come to fruition."
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