Animal welfare activists are not happy about Liam Neeson's support for horse-drawn carriages in New York City's Central Park. On Saturday, about 40 protesters gathered outside his Upper West Side Manhattan apartment with signs saying, "Horse abuse is not romantic," as New York Post reported on April 20. One animal rights activist commented, "he’s up on his high horse supporting animal abuse."
Last month, the "Kinsey" star spoke out against Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to replace Central Park's horse-drawn carriages with vintage electric cars. Neeson invited City Council members to the Clinton Park Stables to show how well the carriage horses were cared for. The mayor declined the invitation. Neeson felt that de Blasio should have "manned up" and faced him.
On April 14, the "Taken" star published a New York Times editorial in which talked he about his experiences growing up with and riding horses on his aunt's farm in Northern Ireland, and later working with horses in a professional context, having appeared in Westerns. He also pointed out that 64 percent of New Yorkers opposed de Blasio's ban on horse carriages, and that the horses were humanely treated.
As Neeson argued, "I can appreciate a happy and well-cared-for horse when I see one. It has been my experience, always, that horses, much like humans, are at their happiest and healthiest when working. Horses have been pulling from the beginning of time. It is what they have been bred to do."
The "Michael Collins" star also suggested that it was a class issue between immigrant workers and well-funded animal rights lobbyists. As he argued, "a majority of carriage drivers and stable hands are recent immigrants...They love their jobs and their horses, and they take pride in being ambassadors for this great city. I can’t help but see the proposed ban as a class issue: Their livelihoods are now at risk because the animal-rights opponents of the industry are well funded by real-estate interests..."
Neeson also criticized the mayor for being unwilling to hear both sides of the issue. As he commented, "before we lose this signature element of New York’s culture and history — instantly recognizable to the millions of tourists who visit our city and contribute to its economy — the least the mayor can do is come down to the stables and see how the horses are cared for."
Although Neeson is passionate about his support for horse-drawn carriages, he is in the minority as far as Hollywood. A number of celebrities, including Alec Baldwin, Pink, Alicia Silverstone, Peter Dinklage, Dave Navarro, Wendy Williams, Kathy Najimy, and Lea Michele have all publicly supported Mayor de Blasio's bill.
As Pink commented, "every time I see a horse-drawn carriage with its nose in the tailpipe of a cab and the blinders on and all the pollution and the congestion and the traffic and the noise, it just hurts my heart." Meanwhile, Baldwin alluded to the issue on an episode of "30 Rock" when he described the carriages as "rolling torture wagons for nature's most dignified creature."
Still, Baldwin did suggest that he would be open to preserving the carriage trade, if he could ensure that the animals were humanely treated. As he commented, "I don't have a problem with the carriage trade. If they remove all the cars in Manhattan, and build a farm with an acre of land for each horse to graze, I will invest my own money."
Were the animals rights activists justified in protesting outside Liam Neeson's apartment? Or was Neeson justified in wanting to defend an issue that he felt passionately about? Should Central Park replace the carriage horses with vintage electric cars? Or is there a way to preserve this long-standing institution while still making sure that the horses are treated properly?