A carriage horse broke free of his reins and ran through the streets of Midtown before collapsing on the West Side Highway on Sunday, injuring himself and renewing calls by advocates to ban the carriage industry from Manhattan.
The 15-year-old steed, named Gunner, was pulling a carriage on 55th Street and 10th Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen at about 3 p.m. Nov. 26 when the carriage “malfunctioned,” according to police. Videos showed that the canopy above the cab had collapsed.
As the driver attempted to repair the carriage, Gunner became “agitated” and took off, dragging the carriage westbound and knocking into several parked cars, causing significant damage to them. Eventually, Gunner became detached from the carriage, continuing to gallop away before slipping and falling on the northbound West Side Highway at 55th Street.
Off-duty officers with the NYPD’s mounted unit tended to the injured horse, who was taken to the Midtown stables in stable condition with cuts on his body, sustained from the broken carriage equipment.
The driver told cops that while he was attempting to fix the canopy, he was attempting to rein in the horse but slipped and fell, and was dragged several feet until the horse first crashed into a car, according to a video from the scene shared with amNewYork Metro. The driver sustained minor injuries in the ordeal.
Phil Consiglio, a 56-year-old New Jersey resident working in Midtown Sunday, said he was going to check on his car on 55th Street when he “heard a noise that sounded louder than if two cars had gotten into an accident,” before seeing the horse running about. Gunner smashed into the back of a different car before ricocheting across the street and smacking Consiglio’s automobile, damaging the lights and panels. He is waiting to hear from his insurance company on a damage estimate.
“That thing went by me, that horse had a look, he was definitely freaked out,” Consiglio told amNewYork Metro. “It takes a lot to freak me out, and seeing that horse go by me like that just put a bad vision in my mind.”
Christina Hansen, a carriage driver, union shop steward, and de facto spokesperson for the industry, told amNewYork Metro that Gunner, a standardbred with a “flea-bitten grey” coat, was seen by a vet Sunday night and got stitches on his leg. He is on “stall rest” for the time being, she said.
Hansen said it’s “going to be a little white” until Gunner can go back to work, “not until he’s healed and gets vet clearance.”
Gunner’s escape and collapse come at a precarious time for the horse carriage industry, as advocates renew calls to ban the industry from Manhattan, calling it abusive to horses. Critics of the industry say horses are not meant to pull carriages on the crowded and chaotic streets of Midtown Manhattan, and the practice creates injury risk both to horses and humans.
“Horses are prey animals with a highly developed flight drive — they bolt when frightened, which is exactly what happened to 15-year-old carriage horse Gunner,” said Edita Birnkrant, executive director of New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (NYCLASS). “Forcing horses into Midtown traffic is a clear public safety danger as well as animal cruelty — it must end immediately.”
NYCLASS is calling for Gunner to be released from work duties and allowed to spend his days at an animal sanctuary.
Last summer, a carriage horse named Ryder dramatically collapsed on a Hell’s Kitchen street after a full day’s work in the summer heat, remaining on the ground for more than an hour. The carriage driver, Ian McKeever, was seen on video prodding and whipping the underweight and apparently exhausted horse, rather than providing him water.
A veterinarian later found that Ryder was an elderly horse twice as old as McKeever told cops, and said that he should not have been working. He was also suffering from heart disease, decreased blood cell count, and what appeared to be cancer, specifically Equine Lymphoma. Ryder was euthanized at an upstate farm a few months later.
This month, McKeever was criminally charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty, with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg saying the veteran coachman should not have been working Ryder given his age and health problems. McKeever, who called the charges “politicized” and claimed to have “never harmed a horse in my life,” is due back in court on Dec. 20.
Advocates are pushing the City Council to pass a bill banning the horse carriage industry from Manhattan, to be replaced by electric horseless carriages with current drivers prioritized for new licenses. The bill has 19 co-sponsors in the City Council, but is vociferously opposed by the Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents the carriage drivers. The law was introduced prior to Ryder’s collapse but has since been unofficially named in his honor.
“Again, a horse carriage incident. When will we stop bowing to profit-driven special interests at the expense of safety and animal welfare,” said Queens Council Member Bob Holden, the bill’s primary sponsor, on X. “The solution is simple: electric carriages. It’s a win for horses, workers, and the public. Pass Ryder’s Law, and we all win!”
Consiglio, whose car was damaged by the equine escapee, said he had never really considered the issue before Sunday, but after witnessing Gunner’s mad dash now believes the horse carriages should be removed, for the sake of the horses and the people around them.
“I think it’s a very bad idea to be honest with you that something like this can happen,” said Consiglio. “Not just for the horse’s sake obviously, but it’s waiting for something big, it could’ve been a 10 or 12-car pileup on an avenue, to be honest with you.”