Why are there horses in Central Park?

Central Park was created in the 1800s to be a pastoral oasis in a rapidly growing New York City, and it was specifically designed for leisurely rides in horse-drawn carriages and on horseback. 

Lower Manhattan in the mid-1800s was crowded and expanding. with waves of immigration and rapid development. The area was packed with commercial and residential buildings that ranged from ramshackle tenements to brownstone mansions. 

Government leaders and planners decided to create a vast open area that would offer residents a much-need break from the teeming and often squalid urban environment. They also desired a destination so spectacular it would draw tourists from around the world and elevate the city’s global status.

Horses, and horse-drawn carriages, were part of the vision from the very start.  

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead sculpted a landscape of woods, meadows, ponds, and other features with an eye towards how they would appear to visitors walking on foot, riding on horseback, and traveling in horse-drawn carriages. Those were the angles that mattered. The automobile wasn’t invented yet. 

Carriage drivers today will tell you riding through the park in a carriage provides a different perspective and experience compared to walking or bicycling. 

Horses were used during park’s construction in the 1850s and 1860s to remove move tons of topsoil, boulders, and tree stumps. Horses also were used to bring tons of paving stones, timbers, and other materials to laborers working the park for laborer inside the perimeter.

When the first section of Central Park opened in 1858, carriage drivers and their horses were inside providing tours. Today there are 6 miles of carriage drive for the four-hoof, four-wheeled tours.

A historic carriage ride through Central has become one of the most iconic, and popular, outdoor attractions in New York City. Hundreds of thousands of rides are given each year to tourists from all around the world, as well as to locals celebrating special occasions or simply enjoying family outings.