June 17, 2024

NYC carriage drivers union hires experts in bid to soothe horse health concerns

Horse carriage drivers in Central Park argued Monday that their work is safe for their horses — more so now that their union is hiring what it calls an expert in horse care and driver training.

TWU Local 100, which represents the city’s horse carriage drivers, announced a series of measures union officials said would protect horses, including the hiring of Tristian Aldrich, a coachman and horse trainer, to provide weekly assessments of equine health.

“He’s an expert, he worked at Buckingham Palace,” TWU spokesman Pete Donohue said of Aldrich. “If he sees something, like a horse with a health issue, he’s going to flag it to the driver, to us, so it can be addressed.

“His marching orders are, if he see’s a problem, address it. He sees a horse limping, address it.”

At a morning press conference, Aldrich said he’d been to the park “six to eight times” so far to observe the city’s carriage horses.

A carriage horse in Central Park.

“I’m in the park once a week, pretty much to be an independent set of eyes for the carriage group and for the union to keep an eye over everything,” Aldrich said. ”Make sure everything — animal welfare, carriages, everything — is above and beyond what’s required by the city,”

There are roughly 200 carriage horses for the industry’s 68 carriages, said Christina Hansen, a carriage driver and union steward.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve seen anything that is obviously upsetting,” Aldrich said.

“The horses are all happy, they’re all in good condition, the drivers do everything they can to make sure the animals are looked after and taken care of,” he added. “I truly haven’t seen anything untoward.”

Tristian Aldrich, expert carriage horse driver, has been hired by Transport Workers Union Local 100 in response to concerns about animal welfare in NYC's carriage horse industry

“Horses, like people, they can turn wrong, [get] a slight injury,” he added. “Shoes come loose, the wear and tear on them is a real thing.”

In a statement announcing Aldrich’s hire on Monday, TWU officials also boosted the creation of a “safety committee” of union drivers and elected shop stewards from each of the stables represented.

“The committee members and stewards identify medical concerns and operational issues that need to be addressed,” the release said.

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The union also lauded the hiring of equine veterinarian Gabriel Cook, who officials said makes twice-a-month visits to the stables to check up on horses.

Animal rights groups have been pressuring the city to ban carriage horse rides through Central Park, a cry that has gotten louder since one of the horses, Ryder, had to be euthanized last year after collapsing on Ninth Ave.

Ryder’s owners initially told police the horse was 13 years old, but he was later revealed to be 26. That discrepancy drew outrage from the animal rights group NYCLASS, which argued the elderly horse should not have been pulling a carriage in the first place.

A carriage horse driver in Central Park.

Edita Birnkrant, NYCLASS’ executive director, dismissed the union’s announcements Monday as a “smoke screen,” and questioned the independence of experts or vets hired by horse owners and the union.

“Things are worse than ever for the horses,” she said.

Birnkrant also claimed that the city’s carriage horse industry is reliant on old horses with pre-existing injuries.

“That’s their business model,” she said. “Trotting out the former pooper-scooper for the Queen is not going to change that.”

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