Distressing video footage of a carriage horse repeatedly collapsing on the street and being dragged into a trailer triggered a massive vigil at the site of the tragic incident and a protest at the midtown stable where she later died. The horse, Aisha, was 12 years old and had been pulling a carriage in New York City for one year when she died on February 26th.
At the request of NYCLASS, an animal rights group that advocates on behalf the horses, the NYPD Animal Cruelty Squad launched an investigation into Aisha’s death.
“To the carriage operators, these horses are commodities,” said Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of NYCLASS. “By forcing Aisha into the trailer in order to get her out of public view, the drivers prioritized optics ahead of the welfare of the horse, who should have been kept where she was until a veterinarian arrived to examine her. The carriage operators did not follow the protocol on moving a downed horse. The trauma they caused by treating her with such brutality may have contributed to her death.”
Footage of Aisha collapsing and a carriage driver blowing smoke into her face to force her into the trailer went viral on social media. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been widely criticized over his failure to fulfill his campaign promise to ban horse-drawn carriages, said that he was “disgusted” by the City’s horse-drawn carriage trade.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for an investigation:
Aisha’s death is the third carriage horse fatality on record in 2020. According to the New York City Department of Health (DOH), the other two horses died of colic.
In addition to the horses who died, one horse collapsed on the street after being electrocuted and crashing into a pole, and another horse was emaciated was documented on several occasions pulling a carriage. In spite of NYCLASS’ pleas, the DOH allowed the horse to continue working.
During the vigil for Aishi, NYC-based musicians Kiirstin Marilyn and Kirk Miller performed Sia’s I’m in Here as dozens of animal rights activists placed flowers on the ground where she collapsed.
The animal rights community in New York has been advocating for a ban on New York’s horse-drawn carriage trade since 2006, when a horse named Spotty spooked on Ninth Ave and crashed into a car, killing the horse and sending the carriage driver to the hospital with serious injuries.
In 2012, Bill de Blasio pledged to quickly ban the industry if he was elected Mayor, but his failure to act quickly after his victory gave the carriage operators, media, the Teamsters Union and actor Liam Neeson, an industry spokesperson, several months to build public support for the industry. NYCLASS, however, isn’t giving up. After the series of tragic incidents in 2020, the organization renewed its demand for horse-drawn carriages to be banned in New York City.
“This industry is out of control and must be shut down,” said Birnkrant. “We have been documenting the carriage operators breaking the law for months — from picking up passengers in Times Square to overloading the carriages.”