only fools & horses

12.30 Sarah-Jessica-Parker-in-New-Years-Eve

It’s not that I don’t like horses, but sense they don’t much like me.

There’s been a bite, a kick and once, after being talked into riding a “quiet, ancient, slow” hack, the duplicitous old nag tried to dislodge me at every tree branch when no one else was looking.

For all that I respect and admire horses albeit from a discreet distance, but for their own sakes really don’t like to see them in Swanston Street.

The landmark Young & Jackson Hotel affords one of the best views of Melbourne.

Sitting upstairs enjoying tapas and a glass of wine watching the time-lapsed surge of humans and vehicles through the famous intersection it feels like you’re the eye in the sky – simultaneously at one with the city and completely detached from it.

But each time a carriage horse clops through the picture, I feel strangely deflated as if someone let the tyres down on life.

Put yourself in the shoes of the horse.

It can’t be much fun plodding nose-to-tailpipe in the same futile exercise – especially on a day when you can see heat rising off the bitumen.

And frankly I can’t really understand what’s in it for the human cargo either.

That large bearded man covered in tattoos who just climbed in is no Cinderella and I begin to wonder if the attraction of this ride isn’t as perverse as holding up the legions like some latter-day emperor in a chariot.

Supporters of the horse and carriage street traders say they provide a romantic tourist attraction redolent of the city’s past.

Others believe it’s cruel and anachronistic.

From here, watching as one animal reassuringly nuzzles its co-worker while they are stopped at lights with a cargo of obese people taking selfies, it’s the horse that reigns.

It doesn’t seem like very enlightened treatment of animals to force them to work in such conditions when tourists can enjoy much the same perspective in an open-topped bus.

And, there’s certainly nothing romantic about spooked horses running through red lights as happened last year moments after Shane Burdon proposed to his girlfriend Natalia Oleksaik.

It was,” he said, “very, very scary.”

Just what distinguishes this from an organ grinder’s monkey or dancing bears?

The new mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio has announced his intention to ban horse-drawn carriage rides in mid-Manhattan.

The iconic tourist rides around Central Park would be replaced with a fleet of vintage-replica electric cars.

Many New Yorkers are unhappy because they see the carriage rides as part of their city’s cultural history, immortalised on screen in such classics as Woody Allen’s Manhattan and in more recent times Sex In The City.

Horse-drawn carriages have been a feature of Central Park ever since it opened in 1858 and some of the current drivers are third-generation “carriage people.”

With latest polls show 61 per cent of New Yorkers would like to see the carriages keep rolling it will be interesting to see if de Blasio holds to his promise.

But the carriage rides in Melbourne are not embedded in our collective psyche.

There need be no debate.

It’s time we too put the horse before the cart.



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