Central Park Carriage Horses
I'm crazy about horses and have felt that way since childhood. So when Time Out New York Associate Features Editor Kate Lowenstein asked if I would talk with some Central Park carriage horses, I jumped at the chance. It turned out to be a bizarre session, exhilarating and somewhat uncomfortable at the same time.

Kate was able to get three handlers to allow me to talk with their horses. Several turned us down. The ones who agreed were not welcoming. Since animal rights groups periodically mount campaigns to discontinue the rides, it is not surprising that the handlers were not overly pleased to see us.

I was puzzled by was the comments of the horses themselves, Elvis, Patrick, and Big Mac. Not one spoke directly of being unhappy. It later dawned on me that the horses were being politically correct. The handlers were standing five to ten feet away and could hear Kate‚s questions to me and my responses to her. While the horses didn‚t say they were unhappy or ill treated, they all expressed a longing for real contact with humans. Relationships where they could be respected, loved, and treated with dignity.

Elvis, Patrick and Big Mac represented three points of view on a continuum. Elvis was the most fragile and the most damaged. Big Mac was the strongest, the best adjusted to the unhealthy life style that was imposed upon him. Patrick was somewhere in-between.

I felt moved to give Reiki to Patrick. He sopped it up. He clearly appreciated the healing energy and thanked me. Later I wondered why I hadn‚t thought to give Reiki to Elvis. I concluded that he might have been too skittish to accept the healing.

Ironically, the following day, one of the carriage horses was startled by a sudden loud noise, bolted and was killed. I believe all the horses know about this death and the other accidental deaths that have occurred within their ranks. They can communicate with each other telepathically, just as I do, and their shared condition is conducive to communication, just as their natural life style of living in herds is conducive to seeing themselves as members of a community. Yet they have no choice but to continue their work.

All three of the horses told me that they did not like the fumes from the cars. I don‚t like the fumes either, but I don‚t have to stand outside and breath in the exhaust all day long. Patrick told me he liked young children aged three to five years old because they were spontaneous and showed joy in seeing him and in riding in the carriage. Without condemning the adults who saw him as a quaint commodity or a means to a livelihood, Patrick made it clear that he was not being viewed as the sentient being he is.

Mayor Bloomberg supports the carriage business, calling it a symbol of New York. The carriage trade is certainly linked to the city‚s image. And I do love seeing horses when I pass the area. But what about the other side of the image? The charges of horses being forced to stand in their own excrement and being subjected to work in extreme heat and cold? Are these charges, among other allegations of abuse, helping the image of the Big Apple? Traditionally, horses symbolize travel, power and freedom. How do New York City carriage horses stack up to the universal symbol? They travel from stall to Central Park and back again. They have no power to roam free. Basically, the horses are slaves. They work all day in virtually all weather conditions and they return to a stall at night only to repeat the process the following day.

Given his incredible track record as a business executive, Mayor Bloomberg should be able to turn the lives of the carriage horses around to closer replicas of their traditional symbol of power and freedom. It behooves the city to treat all its citizens with dignity, even the four-footed ones.

Photos from top: Catherine and Big Mac, Elvis and Catherine, Catherine and Patrick: Beth Levendis, Time Out New York