Protest Planned After a Carriage Horse Named Spartacus Fell Near the Plaza Hotel [Updated]

Image via NYCLASS
The two sides of the carriage horse debate are arguing furiously this morning, after a horse named Spartacus toppled over near the hack line at Central Park yesterday. Predictably, neither side can agree on what happened: the anti-carriage, pro- animal rights groups, including NYCLASS and Friends of Animals, say the horse spooked after a bus got too close while making a turn. But a spokeswoman for the carriage industry who was present during the incident says the horse simply got tangled with another carriage, and was soon back on his feet and heading for home, where he was examined by a veterinarian and found to be unharmed.

The photo above is being distributed by NYCLASS, who posted it on their Facebook page last night. They're calling for an emergency protest and press conference at 1 p.m. today at 59th St and 5th Ave, near the hack line, where the incident took place.

Friends of Animals New York director Edita Birnkrant says the incident highlights the need to push a ban bill quickly through the City Council: "Had there been passengers in that carriage when the horse spooked and it fell over, they could have been badly injured."

But Christina Hansen, a carriage driver and spokeswoman for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York, an industry group, says that while Spartacus did trip, he was quickly helped up by a team of drivers and sent home to his stable. She also sent the Voice of a photo of Spartacus, standing in his stall this morning, "happy and unharmed," she says.

- See also: Headless Horse Ban - Bill de Blasio's Pledge to Abolish Horse-Drawn Carriages is Running Away From Him

Hansen says that Spartacus is 15 years old, and has been a carriage horse for the past eight years. "I was a witness at the incident that took place yesterday, and in fact helped my coworkers get the horse untangled from the harness and carriage, without him struggling, so he did not hurt himself," she tells us via email. "Yesterday's incident demonstrates the training and professionalism of NYC carriage drivers as experienced horsemen."

Here's a clip from the official statement by the Horse and Carriage Association, describing the incident:

At approximately 4:20 PM on Wednesday, April 23, a horse parked at the corner of 5th Ave. and 59th St. unexpectedly pulled out, catching the back wheel of the carriage on the back wheel of the carriage in front of it. The tangle pushed the second carriage over, which caused carriage horse Spartacus to lose his footing and fall to the sidewalk.

Several carriage drivers immediately came to the horse's aid, keeping him calm and laying down while they unharnessed him, got him untangled and righted the lightweight carriage before safely allowing him to get to his feet. Unharmed, Spartacus was reharnessed and rehitched to the carriage, whereupon he was driven directly home to his stable on West 38th St. to await the arrival of the vet. In all, this was a very minor incident with no injuries whatsoever to horse or human.

Edita Birkrant at Friends of Animals says two independent witnesses say it happened differently: "Two tourists came forward with pictures and video of a carriage horse collapsing yesterday, near the Plaza Hotel. The first witness who came forward is an attorney, and she witnessed a bus passing by very close to the horse, the horse getting frightened, rearing up and then collapsing with the carriage turning over."

Birnkrant says the main witness, an attorney, reported that the horse stayed down for some time. "The horse was on the ground for 15 minutes and when they finally got her up the witness said she was visibly limping," she says. "The carriage industry is claiming the horse did not spook and merely got caught on another carriage."

Hansen accuses the animal rights activists of leaping greedily on what was a minor incident. "Of course, NYCLASS is going to use a picture of Spartacus down on the sidewalk to their advantage," she says. "They are so desperate for any new pictures of carriage accidents that they will no doubt have signs with it enlarged on it. People who don't know the context of the photo will be naturally upset, as it is upsetting to see a horse on the ground and a carriage tipped over. However, closer inspection of the photo will reveal the team of caring carriage drivers, including the horse's owner and driver himself, coming to the aid of Spartacus."

She adds that Spartacus is fine: "He was thankfully unharmed, thanks to the quick and calm action of the carriage drivers, and was able to be driven home to his stable to be seen by a vet, who gave him a clean bill of health will be a relief to everyone who genuinely cares about our horses."

Hansen decried what she called false stories being spread by the animal rights crowd: "There are already stories circulating that the horse was spooked by a bus (he wasn't), that he collapsed (he didn't), that he defecated on himself in fear (that was the contents of the manure catcher spilling), that Spartacus was limping and forced to return to work (he was shaken up but not lame, and was taken directly home to wait for the vet)."

But Birnkrant says the video is yet more proof that horses don't belong in midtown traffic: "It couldn't be more clear that horses, with their highly developed flight drive and who frighten easily, simply cannot operate in traffic-congested Manhattan streets any longer."

Here's the photo of Spartacus sent to us by Hansen, which she tell us she took in his stall this morning:

Photo provided by Christina Hansen

Update, 12:05 p.m.: NYCLASS has provided video of the aftermath of the incident, which is below.

Full statements from Friends of Animals and the Horse and Carriage Association are reprinted in full on the following page.

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