It’s a sight that many horse lovers can’t bear – a horse drawing a carriage through the urban streets of New York or any number of European cities for tourists to gawk at local landmarks. But in New York this week, the Center for a Humane Economy has asked for a temporary work stoppage for carriage horses to allow time for an independent veterinary review of the more than 160 horses registered to pull carriages on city streets and in Central Park. NYClass, a non-profit group whose work focuses on the plight of horses in the industry, has endorsed this plan.
The two groups are asking NYC officials to halt all commercial horse carriage rides effective immediately through the end of summer (Sept. 21) to allow for vet examinations of the horses. This urgent request comes in the wake of Ryder, a 14-year-old horse, found in poor body condition and with muscle wastage collapsing last week during the workday (warning: disturbing video).
To ensure there’s no barrier for this vet work to get done, the Center has offered its director of veterinary services, Jim Keen, D.V.M., Ph.D., for the task. The Center also recommends the selection of an independent equine veterinarian from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Recent events warrant an independent veterinary health and welfare assessment for the more than 160 carriage horses working in this commercial enterprise,” said Dr. Jim Keen of the Center for a Humane Economy. “Only fit horses should be asked to pull these heavy loads, and everyone should agree to that principle. Without any question, Ryder was not in any condition to be working when he went down.”
The evaluations would examine body condition, lameness, and diagnosed and undiagnosed disease and injury status, as well as examining feed and nutrition assessment and housing. All horses should also be tested for Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM).
“The pitiful sight of Ryder lying still on the street, limp, ribs and hip bones protruding, visible cuts all over his body and whipped by the carriage driver has been a distressing image for people around the world to see,” said Jennifer McCausland, the Center’s senior vice president for corporate policy. “It’s time to take a pause and pull the horses off the street so an independent veterinary exam can occur to see if there are other horses who are similarly vulnerable to these types of breakdowns.”
“Ryder never should have been forced to pull a heavy carriage in the heat for nine hours a day in his alarming medical condition, with obvious muscle wasting and with ribs and hips protruding,” said Edita Birnkrant, executive director of NYCLASS. “A witness saw Ryder stumbling and struggling to walk while pulling the carriage in Central Park four hours before he collapsed, as the driver screamed at him.”
Ryder’s preliminary diagnosis of EPM is cause of great concern for all carriage horses in the stables. The incident with Ryder is just the latest high-profile horse welfare issue in the carriage industry. In the second half of July, a carriage horse dropped dead in the stable July 20th after pulling a carriage for several hours that day during a record-breaking heatwave. In June, a spooked carriage horse in Central Park galloped into oncoming traffic and collided with cars, injuring a pedestrian. Also, in late May, a carriage horse collapsed in Central Park and witnesses took video of the driver cruelly mishandling the downed animal.
It is this series of alarming and cruel incidents that is behind the groups’ demands for an independent assessment of the health of the horses. City officials would determine how the carriage horse drivers would be compensated during this month-long cessation in commercial carriage horse operations. This story is developing.