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Park Wants Riders Back in the Saddle

Park Wants Riders Back in the Saddle

The Wall Street Journal 5/4/2011


Four years after New York City’s oldest continuously operated stable in closed its doors, the city plans to return horseback riding to Central Park.

Officials from the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation said Tuesday they are seeking proposals to operate a horseback riding concession in Central Park at a site adjacent to the North Meadow Recreation Center, near the 96th Street transverse.

While city officials and equestrians hailed the development, some warned that the park’s bridle paths could hinder potential operators. An animal rights group also said it opposed the move for ethical and safety reasons.

Riding is offered in city parks in every borough except Manhattan, said Adrian Benepe, the city’s Parks and Recreation commissioner. After the Claremont Riding Academy on the Upper West Side closed in April 2007, the Riverdale Equestrian Center has occasionally offered some riding in Central Park, but the city now wants a permanent operator, Mr. Benepe said.

“There’s a 150-year-old tradition of horseback riding not just in Central Park but in parks across the city,” Mr. Benepe said. “It enables people to interact with horses and interact with animals in a way that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

Paul Novograd, whose family had operated the Claremont Riding Academy since the 1940s, called the prospect of a new concession “exciting.”

“The park is lonely without horses and it would be great to have ’em back,” Mr. Novograd, 67 years old, said. But he said that Central Park’s six miles of bridle trails have fallen into disrepair. If the trails remain unkempt, a new proprietor would have difficulties attracting riders, he added.

Vehicles from the police and parks departments often park on bridle paths. Runners, dog walkers and parents with strollers use them as well.

“We’ve had instances where runners run by and smack the horses on the rear end,” Mr. Novograd said. “People throwing frisbees in front of horses. Dogs chasing after horses. It’s kind of a free-for-all out there.”

Mr. Novograd has long said that bridle path conditions contributed to the decrease in demand that led him to shutter his stable. But Mr. Benepe countered that Mr. Novograd sold the stable for a “very large profit.”

Mr. Benepe said there are no plans to upgrade the bridle paths. “I think they’re fine,” he said. “If people can use them, horses could probably use them.”

Edita Birnkrant, New York director of Friends of Animals, an advocacy group that has protested the horse-drawn carriages in Central Park, said horses don’t belong in an “urban, chaotic environment.”

“It’s stressful and dangerous for both the horses and the public,” she said.

Mr. Benepe disagreed, saying that “horses exist to be ridden.” The proposals from potential operators are due June 13.

And while Mr. Novograd said demand for riding has decreased, he’s hopeful a new concession will be successful.

“The loss of the last stable in Manhattan was a tremendous loss of an amenity and a diminishment of the quality of life in New York and Central Park,” he said.