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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Aibel

Dark Horses

The grim story behind New York City’s horse-drawn carriages.

By Alexander Aibel

For some (probably unpleasant) reason I can’t remember, I was in Times Square one day last spring. I was doing my best to dodge eager tourists on my way to the 42nd Street subway station—head down, earbuds in. Suddenly, something caught my attention: a beautiful horse galloping straight towards me, right down the middle of 7th Avenue.

The horse looked neither happy, free, nor majestic. Instead, it looked frightened and confused. It had lost its carriage, in which I imagined bewildered sightseers or a flustered young couple in love, and now it wandered the streets aimlessly, unmoored. Had this horse come all the way to Times Square from the park? How did a horse even get loose, let alone make it this far on its own? And where did it, in fact, belong?

I set out to answer these questions as my alter ego, “Aibel the Stable Inquirer.” I even pitched a cheery Blue Note to document my quest. Pen (well, Voice Memos app) in hand, I took to the streets in search of truth. What I found was a gloomy reality.

I began my mission at the Clinton Park Stables. I ventured to 52nd and 11th Avenue to see this mysterious abode and meet the riders and caretakers of New York’s fabled urban ponies. But everyone I asked to interview immediately turned me away. The conditions in the stalls were dishearteningly ugly—what was this equine hellhole? I returned to my computer to find out more.

Illustration by Hazel Lu

Years ago, Mayor de Blasio attempted to ban horses from Manhattan, but actor and (evidently) part-time animal activist Liam Neeson vehemently opposed this crusade. He claimed the horses were well-cared for, and that removing them would be erasing Manhattan’s history.

I’m sorry, Mr. Neeson, I love your films. Taken? A modern classic. but what I saw were rotting walls, tiny stalls, and scared horses forced to parade through the country’s busiest city, instead of pastures to graze and clean air. I was horrified.

I went to Christina Graham, BC ’23, a regular of Kensington Stables, located in Brooklyn, to see if my suspicions could be confirmed. Graham spent her childhood riding and working with horses in Brooklyn and said that Kensington runs the only stables in the city where one can leisurely ride horses. Though she loved her time at the stables, she wilted at the dismal conditions many of the horses face.

Graham agrees that the city’s horses are exploited and should not be made to work as tour guides. “Horses are not supposed to be carrying the weight that they do,” she said. “The way you’re supposed to take care of horses—you take them out for exercise, then you let them out to graze, or put them in their stall, where they have water and food at all times … they need constant fuel and energy.” In the New York City tourism business, attention and resources like this are nowhere to be found; not for humans either, I might add. Even Kensington Stables has very small stalls packed right next to one another, and sicknesses like ringworm spread easily.

Today, horses remain in the city as a way of preserving “history” and “culture,” and as an attraction for wide-eyed visitors. Might I suggest tophats or chamber pots, to evoke a similar historical charm? Cholera, perhaps? Those overworked and mistreated horses are as anachronistic in this city as the medieval conditions we keep them in. And as for New York’s culture: People-watch on the 1 train til the end of the line, and I guarantee that’s all you need.


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