NEW YORK—On Sunday, October 23, the ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) was made aware of an incident during which a carriage horse heading to Central Park collapsed and died on the street. The draft horse, named Charlie and estimated to be 15 years old, was subsequently transported to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine for a necropsy.
While the cause of death is still open and is likely to be inconclusive, pending a microscopic analysis of the tissues, the gross necropsy report indicates that Charlie was not a healthy horse and was likely suffering from pain due to pronounced chronic ulceration of the stomach and a fractured tooth.
According to Pamela Corey, DVM, director of equine veterinary services for the ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement department, Charlie was not healthy for a career in an urban carriage horse business. Charlie, who was licensed in August 2011, had been working as a carriage horse for only a few weeks. On average, New York City carriage horses start working at 10 years of age; some start as early as 5 or 6.
While Charlie’s exact origins and past career are unknown, many horses that are used in the urban carriage horse industry originate from unmechanized farms where they are not treated with 21st century medications. Subsequently, they will often require treatment such as aggressive de-worming and supplemental nutrition. "We have observed some horses returning to New York City after furloughs on a farm in worse condition than when they left," Dr. Corey said. "We are very concerned that Charlie was forced to work in spite of painful maladies, and these particular health issues can be difficult to diagnose because draft horses are by nature a stoic breed, not displaying signs of pain until they are very severe."
According to Stacy Wolf, vice president and chief legal counsel of the ASPCA’s Humane Law Enforcement department, New York City law requires little in the way of veterinary oversight. While horses must be examined twice annually, there is no directive concerning the thoroughness of these exams and indeed veterinary records reflect that they are cursory at best. Additionally, there is no requirement that horses be examined by a veterinarian after they return from furlough.
The ASPCA believes that carriage horses were never meant to live and work in today’s urban setting. Neither the New York City environment nor the current law can provide horses with the fundamental necessities to ensure their safety and well being.