Lift ban on Paris horses, plead mounted protesters
From Charles Bremner in Paris for Times Online
Parisians were taken aback at the weekend by the sight of 14 young women riding down the Champs Elysees and through the Tuileries garden to the Louvre, all in the cause of bringing the horse back to the French capital.
The group, including writers, film directors and a fashion designer, had no permission for their stunt, which they staged as a protest against a longstanding ban on horses in Paris.
They were intercepted by police but allowed to continue their ride from the western edge of the city to the Place de la Bastille.
While London, New York, Madrid and other capitals have carriage taxis, mounted police and other equine services, the only horses in Paris are those of the Garde Republicaine, a Gendarmerie unit that resembles a small version of the Household Cavalry.
“It is incredible that thre are no carriages allowed in Paris, which is the city most visited by tourists in the world,” said Alice Bloch, 37, one of the riders.
“There is no actual law against horses in Paris. A horse is considered to be a motor vehicle under the highway code so we obeyed the law, stopping at lights and not occupying the pavement,” she said.
“We didn’t ask permission because we knew that it would be refused.”
Horses are so unusual in the capital that pictures of les cavalières from the Cheval à Paris campaign made national news.
The women were briefly questioned by police when they arrived at the City Hall to leave a petition for Bertrand Delanoe, the Mayor. This asked him to authorise carriages on tourist routes such as Montmartre and the Champs Elysées and to reintroduce horses in the service of the city.
“The horse reassures citizens and children especially,” they said. “Paris owes it to itself to put horses into the heart of the city in order to perfect its romantic image.”
The plainclothes officers who interviewed the women joined them in a picnic by the Seine.
Mounted police are effective in crowd control, as experience in New York and London has showed. Horses are also being introduced in other places for delivery services and performing tasks such as socialising young delinquents, they said. “Reintroducing the horse to Paris would enable city dwellers to… rediscover a sense of life,” said the group.
The campaigners reject arguments about pollution. Horse dung is a useful source of energy and horses in the city could be equipped with bags to collect their droppings like those of New York, said Ms Bloch.
Motorcycle escorts collected 30 kilogrammes of dung from the women’s Sunday ride through Paris, she said. The horse population of Paris peaked in 1880 with 80,000 animals in the city.