Animal rights advocates and lawmakers are calling on Manhattan’s district attorney to probe claims of abuse connected to the city’s horse carriage industry.
City Councilman Robert Holden from Queens renewed his own calls to end the practice of horse carriages after the very public collapse of a horse in Manhattan last week. On Tuesday, he’ll join with members of nonprofit animal advocacy and political action group NYCLASS – New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets – outside of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office to call for more thorough oversight to prevent such incidents from happening again.
“Let's look at the industry as a whole,” Holden told Gothamist on Monday. “Are they protecting the interests of the horses, who, of course, we have to protect? They can't protect themselves. They can't speak.”
The district attorney’s office did not immediately provide comment when reached Monday by Gothamist.
The latest push came less than a week after a carriage horse named Ryder collapsed onto a Manhattan street on a hot summer evening, drawing a crowd of spectators. Police officers responding to the scene had to hose off the animal before getting it back to its feet. Subsequent footage of the incident also reportedly showed the horse carriage operator aggressively trying to get the horse back to its feet as its footing started to wane.
Pete Donohue, a spokesman for Transport Workers Union Local 100, the group that represents horse carriage drivers, had told Gothamist that the ailing horse was suffering from equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, a neurological disease horses can contract from eating infected opossum droppings, and not heat exhaustion.
Edita Birnkrant, the executive director at NYCLASS, has been adamant about putting an end to horse-drawn carriages in the city and has stood with Holden in hopes of passing new legislation to end the practice.
“The carriage drivers and owners care so little for these horses that they don't have emergency procedures in place for something like this. We've seen this over and over again,” she told Gothamist in an interview last week. “When horses have life-threatening emergencies, they have no vet there to treat them and they either suffer or die or are at risk of dying.”
On Friday, Holden joined with NYCLASS, Voters for Animal Rights and PETA to announce their own arrangements with a certified sanctuary to formally retire Ryder, the lawmaker said. The group had reached out to the man Holden’s office had identified as Ryder’s owner, Ian McKeever, but had not heard back as of Monday, Holden said.
Attempts to reach McKeever were unsuccessful.
In an interview with Gothamist, TWU Local 100 carriage horse driver Hansen said it was unfair to suggest that drivers did not care for their horses.
As for McKeever, Hansen said that while he was riding with Ryder that day, he did not own the horse or the carriage, as he was working as a fill-in driver that day. Hansen said McKeever had been riding for 35 years, but Wednesday was the first time he'd done so since before the pandemic. Nevertheless, he told her he was still shaken up by last week’s incident in Manhattan.
“It’s rough for him. He was there by himself,” Hansen said.
She added, “He said, ‘Listen I panicked. I tried to get the horse up, and when I tried to get the horse up. All of a sudden, there was an angry mob.’"
Holden introduced legislation last month that would block new licenses and replace the horse-drawn carriage industry with a horseless electric carriage instead. If enacted, it would be the most significant law affecting the industry since the City Council passed legislation in 2019 making it illegal for horse-drawn carriages to operate when temperatures reach 90 degrees or above, or whenever the air temperature is 80 degrees or above and the equine heat index is at 150 or above.
A spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams said his office was open to discussions on future legislation concerning the industry. The mayor’s office also said it was investigating the incident last week in Manhattan and would be following up with Ryder’s owner.
Now, Holden is asking the NYPD, the Council’s health committee, the health department and the Manhattan district attorney to look into the industry. His bill currently has a total of 12 sponsors in the City Council – a number that he said should be higher.
“It's disgraceful that these councilmembers are not stepping up,” he told Gothamist on Monday. “I should have 26, at least, so I can say to the speaker, ‘I’ve got the majority of the City Council behind me.’ Shame on them.”