Where Do You Stand on The Great Carriage Debate?

2014-09-18T09:51:42+00:00By |Culture, Lifestyle|

The Central Park Horse Show and $210,000 Central Park Grand Prix, which takes place this afternoon in the middle of America’s largest city, will bring some of the most pampered, high-caliber equine athletes straight into the middle of a humming metropolis.

But when those horses arrive, they will be far from the only horses there. Every couple of minutes, their fellow equines that in so many ways are their polar opposites, will pass by the temporary show jumping arena set up at the Wollman Rink. Much like they do every day, rain or shine, they will be pulling brightly decorated carriages that contain small groups of tourists, newlyweds, and even locals who come to Central Park every single day to take a ride.

A horse person can’t visit New York City without considering the carriage horses. Lately they’ve become the subject of a contentious debate over whether it is safe, or even humane, to allow them to be in the city at all. For many many years they have lined up on West 59th street, the intensity of the city on their left, and the tranquility of Central Park to their right. More and more, people aren’t comfortable with the sight of the horses resting on the street, and truth be told they do look a little droll, lined up with heads slung low and eyes half closed behind their big blinkers. They want the horses to live in green fields, not the cacophony of a busy city. And with that, you can cue both sides of the debate, currently raging as the future of carriage horses in the city hangs in the balance.

CarriagesL-1He does look a bit diminutive standing there among the traffic…

A Utopian Vision
So why stick your neck out and take a stand on the carriage horse debate? For horseman and noted equestrian architect John Blackburn of Blackburn Architects, it’s in order to float a better –if somewhat utopian- plan for the carriage horses’ future.

“I don’t like to see the horses standing on city streets. I don’t like to see them in small stalls,” Blackburn says. “I think that we need to get them off the streets, yes, but get them into the park.”

The carriage horses spend many hours standing on pavement, either while waiting for their next ride, or when trotting through the park. Giving them softer footing to wait on would require relocating them from the streetside, but it’s an option that many support.

But Blackburn wants to go even farther. What if the carriage horses had a fitting sanctuary in the form of a bright and modern barn to rest in at the end of the day? What if that barn could also act as a therapeutic riding center that served the people of the city? What if it could act as a base for horse owners to trailer-in to the city and take a trail ride through the park? What if there were a beautiful barn that was open to people who wanted to learn more about the history of equestrianism in the city?

BARNBlackburnWhat if there was a barn in Central Park – that looked like this? (Pegaso Farm – Photo ©Cesar Lujan via Blackburn Architects)

With over 160 brilliantly designed barns to his credit, and a long resumè of designing healthy, beautiful spaces for horses, Blackburn is uniquely qualified to assist with the design such a place, and he wants to do the work pro bono. If only New York City would ask him!

The Equestrian Presence
“Horses are part of the city’s heritage, and part of the park’s heritage,” he says. “If they can succeed to getting rid of the horse carriages, they can succeed in completely removing horses from the park. I think the carriage horses are a great place to start. It’s current, it’s a very sensitive issue.”

CarriagesL-2John Blackburn was at Manhattan Saddlery in New York City last night to talk about his idea for the carriage horses, and sign copies of Healthy Stables by Design. 

He’s got that right. One of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign promises was to abolish carriage horses from the city. But Blackburn is not alone in hoping that the mayor will look for a compromise, if enough people come together and present a better plan.

After all, whether its high-dollar show jumpers or your average draft pulling a carriage, there’s no question that an equestrian presence adds to the allure of Central Park. Now the only question is whether that presence will be allowed to live on.

John Blackburn is the author of Healthy Stables by Design, a coffee table sized, hardcover publication that showcases the many innovate and beautifully designed equestrian facilities designed by Blackburn Architects.


  1. Kathryn September 18, 2014 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    How disturbing that Horse and Style would choose to promote the efforts of the elitist, self-serving Blackburn, who, like Bill de Blasio, seems to have no issue with reconstructing the lives of New York City’s 220 carriage horses and their people without having had so much of a word with them. Mr. Blackburn is hardly “uniquely qualified” to design a barn for the NYC carriage horses if he thinks that his preference for not seeing the horses standing on the street (from which they suffer NO ill effects) should inform the business practices of 68 legal and humane businesses. The mahogany and powder coated barns Mr. Blackburn designs may be appealing eye candy for the coffee table book set. However, his inference that a barn like that would provide a necessary improvement in the quality of the horses’ lives is not only ignorant but laughably self-promoting. Equine experts by the dozens who have evaluated the horses and their living and working environments say they are physically and mentally healthy and well cared for. Perhaps Mr. Blackburn may want to wait for horses who need his work and a client who is interested before he designs any more barns.

  2. Barbara S September 18, 2014 at 9:01 pm - Reply

    This is a very slanted article. It infers that the carriage horses would be acceptable if they lived in one of Mr Blackburn’s barns. Newsflash! Horses aren’t impressed by appearances. They have everything they need now (and more than most stables in the country) in their current location. It should also be noted that while Mr Blackburn has offered to design a barn pro bono, no one has offered a location or the money to build such a barn.
    Then there is this: ” truth be told they do look a little droll, lined up with heads slung low and eyes half closed behind their big blinkers. They want the horses to live in green fields, not the cacophony of a busy city.”
    For people who think that horses in the city are easily spooked, that sentence describes horses who are so calm they are dozing off! And green fields?! A lot of country horses don’t have access to them either. Try overgrazed or dirt lots with hay spread around in the real world.
    Mr Blackburn needs to learn that not all horse owners can afford his type of buildings. When I “designed” our barn, we told the Amish builder the dimensions we wanted and we used standard doors. That was pretty much it. Our horses are just happy to have a dry stall where they can eat in peace with their friends nearby.

  3. Minis Mom September 18, 2014 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    Putting a stable in the park may sound like a lofty goal, but it would change the nature of the carriage business. Instead of independent businesses, the carriages would essentially be park concessions. Given that the current mayor seems to think it legal and ethical to ban the carriages, force the drivers to sell their stables, hand the horses (the owners personal property) over to carriage business opponents for re-homing, and “assign” the drivers new jobs, why should the drivers ever consider becoming a park concession? Aren’t they at risk enough without putting them completely under the control of the city? What would happen next time the political wind shifts?

  4. Dawn September 18, 2014 at 10:25 pm - Reply

    Barn in Central Park & KEEP THE CARRIAGE HORSES!!!!!

  5. Kathryn September 18, 2014 at 11:19 pm - Reply

    Wait, I’m sorry about my rant earlier. This is just a puff piece, designed to entertain like Blackburn’s big book. It wasn’t meant to be any kind of thoughtful look at the carriage horse question, it was an opportunity to feature Blackburn, who is exploiting the attack on the carriage horses and their people to try to promote his book. But could you please let him know that asphalt, the surface upon which the carriage horses stand and walk, not trot through the Park, was created to give horses smooth but resilient footing? It might be useful when he designs in the future.

  6. Anna Felkins September 19, 2014 at 1:08 am - Reply

    Mr. Blackburn should realize that horses do not care if someone spends $100 or $100,000 on their stables. As long as they have the expert care that they need to function at their healthiest and happiest, as the carriage horses of NYC do, they’re fine. Mr. Blackburn appears to be a talented architect, and I will even accept this author’s assertion that he is also a horseman, but he seems more than anything to be a genius at self-promotion. There must be a reason the Central Park Conservancy has not availed themselves of his “free” offer. Could it be because the horses are just fine where they are?

  7. Marcia Curran September 19, 2014 at 2:15 am - Reply

    There is no need for a ‘solution’, because there is not a problem. The Carriage Horses are working city horses, and they are very good at what they do. Leave them alone!

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