Portraits of 9 New York City Carriage Drivers and Their Horses

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Almost two years ago, then-mayoral-candidate Bill de Blasio promised to ban New York City’s horse-and-buggies on the first day of his term, garnering the support of deep-pocketed animal-rights activists. But that legislation, introduced in December, has stalled in City Council, where it’s received lackluster support. So for now — except for a brief hiatus to make way for Pope Francis’s tour last month — the carriage horses are still shuttling visitors around Central Park. 

Recently, Daily Intelligencer dropped by the Clinton Park Stables on West 52nd Street — which oozes Victorian charm despite its West Side Highway backdrop — to photograph some of the horse-carriage industry’s professional twosomes.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Angel Hernandez, 30
Shaggy, 13
Years driving: 7
Years working with Shaggy: 3

How did you start driving carriages?
I started as a stable hand and really liked the horses, so I decided to try to get my license. It took me a year. You have to take a test and know about horses and city regulations, so it’s not easy.

Tell me about your most memorable ride.
People propose all the time. I have a red-and-white carriage, and that’s the best thing for proposals.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Jazz Joseph, 39
Blaze, 9
Years driving: 15
Years working with Blaze: 9

What’s the best part of this job?
I love being with animals. I actually spend more time with Blaze than I spend with my kids at home — I’m with him from 10 a.m. until like 5 p.m., and my kids definitely don’t get all that time. They’re probably jealous.

What would you do if the carriage ban went through?
I’d have to try to figure something out, but I have no ideas yet. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, so it’s not easy to switch and go and do another job. Let’s hope we don’t reach that point.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Christina Hansen, 35
Tyson, 12
Years driving: 9 (3 in New York)
Years working with Tyson: 3

What don’t people understand about your job?
I’d been driving a carriage for about a week in Philadelphia when some woman driving past me rolled down her window and screamed, “Animal abuse!” at the top of her lungs at me. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how anybody could look at a fat, shiny horse walking down the street happy as a clam and think that that was abuse. I grew up in Kentucky where horses are part of the culture, and I knew the horses in Philadelphia were cared for to the same standards as the horses at the Kentucky Horse Park. I’m an intellectual, I’m a historian, and I also have a science background, so the idea that people ignore the facts in favor of ideology really bugs me.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Sal, 54
Charlie, 11
Years driving: 33
Years working with Charlie: 6

What’s the best part of this job?
When I’m at the park I’m free to do what I want. I don’t have a boss behind me saying, “Do this” or, “Do that.”

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Josh, 33
Jojo, 16
Years driving: 6 months
Years working with Jojo: 6 months

How did you start driving carriages?

Tell me about your most memorable ride.
I’ve had two proposals on a carriage ride. One of them was at Christmastime at the Cherry Hill fountain. The other one was at the Bethesda fountain, and it was between two middle-aged men. And then yesterday someone took a ride right after proposing, but I didn’t get to see it.

They must’ve seemed happy.
They were from Holland, so I’m assuming that’s what joy looks like on the Dutch.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Natasha Kapanova, 49
Blackie, 14
Years driving: 4
Years working with Blackie: 3

How did you start driving carriages?
I got involved with the horses because my daughter liked them. We went horseback-riding and helped at a small stable in Queens. Then I had the option to leave my office job, so I started doing this.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Ahmet, 27
Dolly, 12
Years driving: 2
Years working with Dolly: 2

What’s the best part of this job?
Well, I don’t need to go to yoga — the park in the evening is very relaxing and peaceful.

Do you and Dolly understand each other?
Yes, definitely. She understands the red lights, too — she stops and goes by herself. Sometimes I’m actually texting inside the park, but she knows what to do.

Why the cowboy hat?
I’ve always wanted to go to Texas, but I haven’t had a chance to yet.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Tommy Hughes, 54
Oscar, 15
Years driving: 32
Years working with Oscar: 10

What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the horse. He knows who I am, I know who he is, and we have a great bond.

What makes Oscar special?
He goes crazy for banana muffins.

Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Metin, 38
Murphy, 14
Years driving: 6 months
Years working with Murphy: 3 months

What’s the best part of this job?
I came here from Turkey as a student years ago, and this is the best way to learn this crazy language. In Turkey we don’t have many opportunities to meet people from other countries, but here I always meet new people. It’s the perfect job for me.

Portraits: 9 Carriage Drivers and Their Horses