Ryder, the carriage horse whose collapse in the middle of a Hell’s Kitchen street has reignited calls to ban the controversial industry from Manhattan, has quietly been removed from New York City for veterinary care, his handlers confirmed.
A spokesperson for Transport Workers Union Local 100 — which represents horse carriage drivers — confirmed to amNewYork Metro that the 14-year-old steed has been taken out of the city to a “professional horse farm” to be treated for what they say is a nasty case of Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM), a neurological condition caused by opossum droppings in food.
Driver reps say EPM was the cause of Ryder’s dramatic collapse last week in the roadway at 9th Avenue and 45th Street, not exhaustion or malnourishment, as anti-carriage activists claim.
The spokesperson said that Ryder has been moved out of the city but remains in New York state. They would not elaborate any further out of fear that activists would descend on the farm.
“They don’t want the location made public out of concern the caregivers could be harassed or threatened by some anti-carriage people who have been known to throw fake blood and do crazy stuff like that,” TWU spokesperson Pete Donohue said in an email.
Christina Hansen, a carriage driver and union shop steward with TWU, said that Ryder is taking some R&R on a “vacation farm” while he gets his EPM medication regimen. She says the majestic equine was unable to receive help at his New York City stables because his veterinarian ordered him not to use any ramps, and he could not stand steadily on the ground floor of the stable where carriages are parked, as EPM can cause weight loss and muscle decline.
Ryder collapsed on the street while pulling a carriage driven by his driver, Ian McKeever, on Aug. 10, and laid down on the hot asphalt for an hour as NYPD officers hosed him down to try to cool him off. The incident, captured on viral video, took place just after a days-long heat wave.
Industry reps were quick to claim publicly that Ryder was suffering from EPM. But anti-carriage advocates were also quick to claim the footage was evidence that Ryder was being abused and neglected by his handlers. Their case was bolstered by photos published by the New York Post showing Ryder at his stable after the incident looking worryingly thin and gaunt, as well as video also published by the Post showing McKeever demand Ryder get up and even whip him just after he collapsed, even as onlookers pled with him to let the horse rest.
Hansen says McKeever was following industry protocol, but anti-carriage group New Yorkers for Clean, Safe, and Livable Streets (NYCLASS) posted Wednesday a quote from the Health Department denying that agency training for carriage drivers includes any whipping or flogging. Health Department spokesperson Michael Lanza confirmed the authenticity of the quote. The Health Department is investigating the matter, but Lanza would not confirm Hansen’s contention that the agency facilitated TWU’s moving of Ryder.
On Tuesday, activists joined Queens Councilmember Bob Holden at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office pleading with DA Alvin Bragg to open a criminal animal cruelty investigation into McKeever. One speaker at the rally, Caroline Smidt, claimed she had seen Ryder in Central Park just hours before his collapse in Central Park, where his apparent malnourishment so concerned her that she snapped photos of the equid as McKeever allegedly yelled and cursed at him to keep moving.
“He was walking with his tongue out and he appeared malnourished, his ribs were showing — this horse was obviously suffering,” Smidt said at the rally. “My heart shattered. And I could not believe the injustice and cruelty that was being put in front of me.”
Allie Taylor, president of Voters for Animal Rights, told amNewYork Metro in an interview that Ryder has become a cause celebre for banning horse carriages in the city in such a way she’s never seen before.
“I have never seen the level of outrage and action taken around carriage horses in 11 years. This accident is different,” Taylor said. “This is a rallying cry. People are sick and tired of spineless politicians just waiting for animal rights activists to subside in a few days. This is it, we are not going away.”
Voters for Animal Rights and other animal rights groups are lobbying hard for the City Council to pass Holden’s bill, Intro 573-2022, which would ban horse-drawn carriages in the five boroughs by 2024 and replace them with electric horseless carriages powered by pedals and steering wheels. Taylor said the bill has picked up four new cosponsors this week, but as with similar bills in the past, the measure is vociferously opposed by the industry and the politically-powerful TWU.
Even if she sees reason to be optimistic politically, Taylor said she’s worried for Ryder’s health and safety under the care of TWU. Another prominent activist, Edita Birnkrant of NYCLASS said last week she’s worried that Ryder may be sold to people who intend to slaughter him.
Taylor said that she and the anti-carriage activist community do not trust the drivers to prioritize Ryder’s health over carriage industry profits, nor do they trust that he’s been brought to a safe location. She said that her org has been inundated with offers to help rehome Ryder at an animal sanctuary that the drivers have refused to entertain.
“They know if he goes to a reputable animal sanctuary that actually cares for horses….they’re gonna expose what happened to Ryder prior to the accident,” Taylor said.
Hansen, who has long pushed back on claims by activists that carriage horses are treated with anything less than the utmost love and kindness, confirmed that there have been many offers to rehome Ryder but that those won’t be considered while he’s undergoing EPM treatment.
“We’ve been inundated with retirement home offers for Ryder, but obviously he can’t be placed while still under treatment for EPM,” Hansen said. “A decision can’t be made without evaluating his long-term needs and vetting those homes’ ability to properly care for him.”
Taylor said the activists also don’t trust the veterinarians hired by the industry to be forthright in their diagnosis of Ryder’s illness, and have been trying to no avail to convince his handlers to allow independent vets to examine the horse. Hansen confirmed that Dr. Camilo Sierra, a longtime carriage horse vet, had responded to the emergency call for Ryder last week.
In 2018, Sierra was suspended from veterinary practice for three weeks and fined $4,500 by the New York State Gaming Commission for improperly administering the bronchodilator drug Albuterol to a horse at Aqueduct Racetrack without first conducting an examination, and then using a fictitious name in reporting on the incident.