Videos showing a horse collapsed in the middle of the street during rush hour and police watering down the fallen horse had animal rights groups protesting outside of City Hall on Thursday. The Wednesday incidentin New York City.
"Yet another sick carriage horse has collapsed in distress on the hot pavement of New York City as onlookers express shock and horror while the animal was repeatedly beaten by the driver," Edita Birnkrant, executive director of the animal advocacy organization NYCLASS, tells CBS News. "How many more horrific tragedies will it take to end carriage horse abuse in New York?"
Witnesses quickly began filming after the 14-year-old horse, named Ryder, fell at the intersection of West 45th Street and 9th Avenue.
"As I was walking through my neighborhood to get to the gym, I heard an unusual 'thud,'" Christian Parker told CBS News. "I looked over my shoulder and saw a horse on the ground in the middle of busy 9th Avenue."
One video shows the carriage driver whipping Ryder with the reins, and then smacking the horse while saying, "Get up." 911 was called, according to the NYPD, and mounted officers were filmed spraying the horse with water.
"After the police got the horse up and off to the veterinarian, the man picked up his own carriage and walked it away. Lots of people started shouting 'How does it feel,'" said Parker. "It was a very New York moment when they were all yelling at him."
The horse was moved to a nearby private horse stable for veterinary care, a police spokesperson told CBS News. The veterinarian later diagnosed Ryder with equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, or EPM, said Pete Donohue of Transport Workers Union Local 100, which represents the city's 300 horse-carriage drivers and owners.
"EPM is a neurological disease caused by a parasite found in possum droppings," Donohue told CBS News. A high percentage of horses in the U.S. are exposed to the parasite, he said, though "only a very few develop symptoms, sometimes months or years after exposure."
But Ryder is on the mend, says Christina Hansen, shop steward and carriage driver, who is handling his care.
"His preliminary basic bloodwork came back normal, and further lab tests to confirm EPM are due in a couple of days," she said in a statement.
But some animal activists are saying such preliminary diagnoses of Ryder are irrelevant.
"As of now, no one knows exactly what is wrong with Ryder, but it is quite clear by his emaciated state and the fact that he collapsed and was unable to get up for over an hour — he is in a life-threatening condition," Birnkrant told CBS News. "If Ryder does indeed have a neurological infection and he was worked by the carriage owner with this infection until he collapsed, criminal charges need to be filed for violating the New York State animal cruelty statutes."
Ryder was rescued in April after his Amish owner no longer wanted him for transportation, Donohue said.
"NYC has the most extensive set of rules and regulations to protect the health of the Central Park Carriage horses, including regular physical exams, multiple vaccinations, and a prohibition against physical activity in extreme heat," the Transport Workers Union said in a statement. "Horses, however, occasionally do get sick and have medical emergencies - just like people and pets."
Horses must stop working when temperatures reach 90 degrees, according to city law. The maximum temperature reached Wednesday was 83 degrees, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Several New York City Council members are backing the proposal to replace horse-drawn carriages with electric ones, according to CBS New York. But Donohue argues that would be a "travesty."
"It took NYC decades to ban cars from Central Park," he told CBS News. "No one wants to go backwards and put tin-can Disney-like electric cars or carriages or buggies or whatever you want to call them."
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