The veterinarian who examined the carriage horse that collapsed in Manhattan earlier this month said the animal was too old and not strong enough to be working on a hot summer day, Gothamist has learned.
The horse, named Ryder, collapsed onto a Hell’s Kitchen street as he was nearing the end of his shift on August 10th after what a carriage drivers’ union official called an episode stemming from a neurological disorder. But Dr. Camilo Sierra, the vet who examined the horse that day, told Gothamist on Monday the horse was also malnourished, lacked muscle and was 26 years old – 12 years older than what was previously reported by the union.
“A horse at that age shouldn't be working in that condition,” Sierra told Gothamist. “I mean, horses can be really fat and healthy at 30 … But a horse in bad condition shouldn’t be [pulling] a carriage.”
A New York City carriage horse must be at least 5 years old before it can start working, and can only work until it reaches 26 years old, according to the health department.
Christina Hansen, a driver with the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents carriage drivers, said the horse’s owner was surprised when they learned Ryder’s real age, which she said had been misrepresented by a previous owner as 14 years old and miscalculated by a veterinarian who examined him in April in order to register him as a carriage horse.
“He’s like, ‘My God, if I'd known the horse in his twenties, I never would've bought him,’” Hansen said about the horse’s owner, who she did not name in an interview on Monday.
The union said that Ryder has since retired and is undergoing treatment at a vacation farm, after which he'll be placed in a permanent home.
In the immediate aftermath of Ryder’s collapse, Pete Donohue, a spokesman for the union, said the horse was suffering from equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, a neurological disease horses can contract from eating infected opossum droppings, and not heat exhaustion. Neither he nor Hansen mentioned any potential discrepancy in the horse’s age at the time.
City Councilman Robert Holden from Queens has long been pushing legislation to end the practice of horse carriages in New York City. Last week, the councilman, along with members of nonprofit animal advocacy and political action group NYCLASS – New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets – called on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to probe the industry as a whole.
The councilman introduced new 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 sweeping law affecting the industry since the City Council passed legislation in 2019 making it illegal for horse-drawn carriages to operate in high temperatures.
A spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams said his office was open to discussions on future legislation concerning the industry.
Edita Birnkrant, executive director of NYCLASS, has rallied with the councilman since Ryder’s collapse to put an end to the practice altogether. In a statement, Birnkrant said horse carriage drivers should be held accountable for not being forthcoming with Ryder’s age and condition.
“This industry’s endless lies prove that they cannot be trusted to police themselves,” Birnkrant said. “In addition to demanding a criminal probe of this horrific tragedy, we are calling on the Department of Health to temporarily shut down the horse carriage industry until an independent investigation can determine the extent of its abuse, neglect, and law-breaking.”
Sierra said Ryder’s incident should have come as no surprise, given his condition. But he also noted that it was an experience that could have been avoided with proper precautions.
“I mean, I'm not against the carriage industry. They’ve got to make a living,” he said. “A lot of these horses are well taken care of, most of them, I would say. But there are some that are not well taken care of. And that's what happened. It’s weak, underweight, with no muscle, with no pull, no energy. Well, of course it's going to collapse on the street.”