New York Daily News: By Michael Gartland – Animal rights activists and City Councilman Robert Holden are demanding that the Manhattan DA launch a criminal investigation into the carriage horse industry after a horse collapsed last week in Hell’s Kitchen.
One activist said that the collapse of the horse, Ryder, wasn’t a “spontaneous tragedy with any warnings”, but an incident that could have been easily avoided had Ryder not been mistreated and malnourished.
“Time-stamped photos and eyewitness accounts show that this horse was in distress far before he collapsed onto the pavement in Manhattan traffic,” said Edita Birnkrant, executive director of the animal rights group, NYCLASS. “Hours before Ryder collapsed, he was seen struggling and emaciated in Central Park while carriage owner Ian McKeever mistreated the distressed animal in public. The mouthpieces of this industry have lost all credibility. The district attorney must launch a probe into the abuse of this horse and all the others like him.”
Activist groups like NYCLASS and PETA have been calling for the city to ban the horse carriage industry for years. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio made it a campaign issue when he first ran for the job in 2013, but he never put a ban in place. More recently, Holden, a Queens Democrat, introduced a bill that would replace horse carriages with an electric-powered alternative.
Mayor Adams hasn’t publicly backed a ban in the industry and declined to comment on the horse’s collapse last week.
In her statement, Birnkrant was referring to photos taken before Ryder’s collapse that depict the horse walking in Central Park with its ribs protruding.
Caroline Smidt, who took the photos, said she witnessed McKeever abusing the animal hours before its collapse.
“This horse immediately caught my attention because he looked very different from the other horses. I could see his ribs protruding, he was walking with his tongue out and was having trouble walking. He was walking very slowly,” she recalled. “I also saw and heard the driver yelling and cursing at the horse because he wasn’t moving fast enough, causing a traffic jam of horse carriages as a result. The driver kept yelling and screaming at the horse to move even though he had customers in his carriage.”
McKeever could not be reached for comment.
Smidt said she was in Central Park last Wednesday with her husband and daughter taking photos when she saw the “horse that’s all over the news now.”
“As soon as I saw the video and news stories about the collapsed horse later that evening, I knew immediately that it was the horse I had seen struggling in the park hours earlier,” she said. “The pictures I took of the horse were taken at 1:15 pm, and I later found out that the horse collapsed on the street at around 5 p.m.”
She said she was “shocked” that the driver kept working the horse, given that it “was struggling and in such bad condition.”
Smidt is also calling on the Manhattan DA to probe the matter.
“I’m begging you to please investigate the driver and help remove this beautiful animal away from him,” she said. “This man needs to be brought up on charges, and this industry must be investigated.”
Longtime carriage driver Christina Hansen called the demand for a DA probe “a publicity stunt,” given investigations by both the city Health Department and NYPD’s animal cruelty unit.
“The city is already investigating. I don’t know what the DA’s office would do,” she said. “It’s not good that the horse fell down. It’s not good that the horse had EPM … None of those are cruelty, either.”
Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, or EPM, is an ailment horses can get through possum droppings, which are found in hay. According to Hanson, Ryder is suffering from the illness.
The Health Department did not immediately comment on the matter. An NYPD spokesman said that its probe is still underway.
Smidt and Holden, as well as members from NYCLASS and PETA, are planning to hold a press conference outside the office of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg on Tuesday.
Holden told the Daily News on Monday that he’s urged the NYPD to determine whether McKeever could be brought up on animal cruelty charges.
In general, he said that the industry needs to be phased out.
“A horse in Midtown Manhattan — they don’t mix,” he said. “We’ve had four horses collapse in the last four months. That’s alarming.”
Top Feature Photo: A woman who witnessed Ryder, the horse that collapsed last week in Hell’s Kitchen, said its driver was cursing the horse out just hours before its collapse. Pics provided by Caroline Smidt – Courtesy of Caroline Londahl-Smidt