Central Park's tourist horses could be put out to pasture

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They have been a favourite tourist attraction in New York for decades, but the days when horses pull decorated carriages through the by-ways of Central Park and the traffic-clogged avenues of midtown Manhattan may soon be numbered.

Citing an accident in September that ended with a horse dying after crashing into a tree, a Democrat member of the city council plans to introduce legislation tomorrow that would bring an end to one of the most popular and picturesque tourist sights in town.

"Horses are incompatible with traffic, especially midtown traffic," said Tony Avella. The time has come, he asserted, to bring New York in line with other big cities and put the more than 200 Hansom cab horses "out to pasture".

While there have been numerous campaigns in recent years to reform the horse-and-carriage industry and better ensure protection for the animals, this is the first time any political leader has sought to outlaw them entirely.

His proposals have already sparked a war of words, with animal rights activists coming out infervent support. On the other side, however, are the Hansom cab drivers who accuse Mr Avella of tabling his bill simply to further his political ambitions. He is expected to run for mayor in 2009.

Mr Avella is the "one who should be put out to pasture", retorted the Horse & Carriage Association of New York, which represents the owners of the almost 80 licensed carriages in the city. Most of the horses are kept in stables near the Hudson river but spend at least three months a year on farms.

"This is just a cheap publicity programme he is running on the backs of these horses," declared Carolyn Daly, spokeswoman for the association. Asserting that his campaign has nothing to do with animal welfare, she added: "He should be ashamed. This is not about the horses. This is about Tony Avella. He's the worst kind of elected official."

How far Mr Avella can go in gathering support for his bill is not certain. Michael Bloomberg, the current Mayor, said only a week ago that he regards the horse-drawn carriages to be one of the most vital tourist assets of the city. Nor does it appear that Mr Avella has persuaded the leader of the council, Christine Quinn, to back him, meaning that in the short term his quest may be doomed to fail.

Even so, with animal rights activists rushing to support him, Mr Avella may have a started a new conversation about the presence of the horses in the heart of the city that may not quickly go away. "It may take some time, but eventually it's going to happen," he said of his proposal.