A carriage horse that collapsed on a midtown street — a startling video of which reignited a debate over the controversial New York City tradition — has died two months after the incident.
According to health department documents, the owner of the horse, named Ryder, falsified birth records and tried to pass the horse off as 13 years old. A veterinarian who checked out the horse after its fall determined Ryder to be around 26 years old, too old to be licensed as a carriage horse in New York City.
Video that went viral showed Ryder go down on 9th Avenue in August with his owner, Colm McKeever, at the reins. McKeever faced charges at a Department of Health administrative hearing in September.
The city’s investigation claims McKeever “made false and misleading statement, or presented forged documents” in April when during the horse’s initial examination, subtracting 10 years from Ryder’s date of birth. Attorney information for McKeever was not known.
In the aftermath of the horse’s shocking collapse that renewed calls for a ban of horse-drawn carriages in the city, Ryder was retired to a private farm upstate.
Video difficult to watch captured Ryder’s collapse Aug. 10 when he fell suddenly while pulling the cart up Ninth Avenue. A witness said that after the horse went down, the man driving the carriage started to hit the animal with a small whip, hoping to get it back on its feet.
The driver had no choice but to let the horse lay there, while the NYPD doused it with water and ice, assuming it had suffered from heat exhaustion. Ryder stayed resting on the hot pavement for some time, but eventually got back up on its own .
The union outlined new safety protocols following Ryder’s fall to more closely watch the conditions of working carriage horses boarded at the city’s stables. Those measures include biweekly medical checks of the horses’ heart conditions and formation of a committee to catch and intervene on matters of health and safety early.
The union said that a veterinarian issued Ryder a preliminary diagnosis of EPM, or Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis — an infection caused by possum droppings.
“The neurological effects of the EPM caused the horse to stumble and fall as the carriage driver is trying to change lanes and turn here on 45th street on the way home,” said Christina Hansen, a spokesperson for the carriage drivers’ union. “And once he was down, he had difficulty getting up again from the neurological symptoms of EPM.”
Hansen said that the video of Ryder on the ground is being weaponized by activist groups, and that he was in “rough shape” when he came into their program after being used as a buggy horse for a Pennsylvania farmer. She also said that the horse was not overheated or dehydrated.
Central Park’s carriage horses have returned to work for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City last spring.
Whether Ryder collapsed as a result of EPM or if was heat-related doesn’t matter much to critics, however. The incident has reinvigorated their calls to end horse-drawn carriages in the city for good.
“They don’t belong in the city! It has to stop,” said Rachel Ejsmont, an animal rights activist. “We’re fed up, it’s traumatizing for us.”
There are 200 licensed carriage horses in NYC, an industry that includes 130 active drivers. The industry could face a seismic shift, all thanks to a bill by Queens City Councilmember Robert Holden that would force carriage drivers to switch to electric carriages — a move that can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.
“Where they have the electric carriages now, the drivers love it because they work in the heat, they can work in the cold,” Holden said. “This is 2022, not 1822. We need to look at how we treat our animals, and we’re not doing a good job.”
But the drivers, and their union, disagree. Hansen worries that no horses will mean less business from tourists, and wonders who is going to pay for the new electric carriages.
“I’m a horse person through and through. I’m not a golf cart driver … There’s no evidence that they’ll make enough money to support their families with it,” she said. “(Ryder) would have been disposed in the slaughterhouse, except that he became a carriage horse.”