UPPER EAST SIDE — Like many born-and-bred New Yorkers, some of Alexandra Summa’s earliest memories of horses are linked with Central Park. She recalls taking carriage rides there during the holiday season or going with her sister to visit the horses lined up along Central Park South.
When 15-year-old Alexandra learned of the proposal to ban the carriage horses — a plan pushed by Mayor Bill de Blasio during his campaign — she was shocked.
“I’ve ridden in the carriages. They’re featured in movies. People get proposed to in them,” said the Yorkville resident. “It’s just something I never thought we would lose.”
Alexandra recently joined a growing number of people who are fighting to keep carriage horses in New York City. After doing her own research on both sides of the issue, she founded IconicNYC — a student-led group that so far includes about 10 of Alexandra's peers from Eleanor Roosevelt High School. It aims to educate young people about this issue and get them involved in the fight.
Alexandra is no stranger to community activism. As a 12-year-old, she started volunteering in the office of former City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin. She spent much of her time gathering signatures for petitions on community issues and registering concerns from constituents.
“I’ve always been outspoken about what I believe,” Alexandra said. “Working there, I learned that one person could make a difference.”
She also learned the power of information, a lesson she took to heart when researching the carriage horse issue. While those opposed to the carriages say that horses are forced to work long hours and kept in inhumane conditions, a visit she took to the Hell’s Kitchen stables where the horses are housed convinced Alexandra otherwise.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people that believe this is immoral and that the conditions are terrible,” she said. “I visited the stables myself. They were comfortable and inclusive and very clean. ”
Sarah Chase, a public relations consultant who specializes in equestrian brands and content, said that there simply aren’t enough spots with rescue groups to re-house all of the horses if the ban were to take effect.
“The activist groups say that they will have homes for all of these horses, but if you call the rescues, they say otherwise,” Chase said. “Even if they can find space, that’s 200 other horses who are being displaced from the rescue line.”
When horses can’t be rescued, they are sold at auction, sometimes to slaughterhouses, Chase added.
The mayor made a campaign promise to end the horse-carriage industry in New York City, earning strong support from animal-rights groups and promising to eliminate carriages as one of his first acts as mayor. However, no legislation has been proposed since the election.
To drum up attention about the issue among her peers, Alexandra took to social media. She wrote a Facebook post explaining why she wanted to save the carriage industry that generated almost 100 comments from her classmates on both sides of the debate.
“It surprised me how many people have cared enough to write comments that are sometimes controversial, but also educational,” she said. “Their comments are like essays, not just little bits.”
Because Alexandra took the time to properly research the issue, her father, Dan Summa, agreed to provide some support. He helped her to put together a website, IconicNYC.org, where she has blogged about her stable tour and set up an online petition for visitors to sign. He also made a one-time donation of $450 to the cause.
Alexandra and the other group members are using the funds to bring the fight offline.
They have created postcards in support of the carriage industry that are pre-stamped and addressed to the mayor’s office. This Saturday, Alexandra and other Iconic NYC members will head to Central Park to hand them out and encourage people to mail them to the mayor.
Alexandra said that she also hopes to show other young people that they can affect change in their own communities.
“I really want to get young people involved,” she said. “I think it’s an important issue and I hope my peers do to.”