Joan Jett, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas, Kesha, Noah Cyrus, and Kaley Cuoco are several artists among a growing list of celebrities who have signed an open letter to the New York City Council banning the use of horse-drawn carriages in New York City. The move comes nearly two months after a video of a carriage horse named Ryder collapsed in the middle of a busy Midtown Manhattan street on Aug. 10, 2022.
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“The now-viral video of Ryder on a New York City street is heartbreaking, infuriating, and disturbing,” read the letter produced by Animal Legal Defense Fund, an animal rights advocacy organization. “Ryder, an elderly, emaciated horse, collapsed on Ninth Avenue [and 45th Street] while pulling a carriage. The world bore witness as the carriage driver tried to force Ryder to his feet, while he could barely lift his head. The video is hard to watch for good reason—this is not the way animals should be treated.”
In the video of Ryder’s collapse, his driver can be seen yelling and hitting the horse and attempting to pull it up as it lay on the ground. “Upon arrival, patrol officers observed a carriage horse lying in the middle of the roadway in distress,” said the the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in a statement responding to the horse collapse on Aug. 10. The NYPD hosed down the horse and brought him to a nearby stable for veterinary care following the incident.
After examination of the horse, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) responded to criticism of the driver’s actions on Twitter and revealed more details behind the cause of the horse’s collapse. ”The diagnosis of the equine veterinarian who examined Ryder is that he has EPM—a neurological disease caused by possum droppings,” wrote the TWU. “Please do not jump to conclusions before knowing the facts or talking to the carriage drivers’ union.”
Joaquin Phoenix, Christopher Walken, Rooney Mara, Kate Mara, Christian Serratos, Sadie Sink, Hilary Swank, Justin Theroux, Marisa Tomei, Maggie Baird, Edie Falco, Riley Keough, designer Christian Siriano, comedians and actors Whitney Cummings, Sarah Silverman, and Ricky Gervais, and more have also signed the Animal Legal Defense Fund letter.
The Animal Legal Defense letter continued, “Ryder is an individual, but his situation is not unique. Media stories, smartphones, and police reports have documented traumatized horses running through traffic and other carriage-related incidents too numerous to count, spanning decades. Tragic outcomes for horses haunt New York City’s history, as well as other cities across the country. Horses, carriage passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and others are put at risk by this cruel and reckless industry. We say: No more.”
Prior to the collapse of Ryder, City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Queens) recently introduced legislation — Intro 573 prohibiting the issuance of new licenses and the replacement of existing carriages with electric options.
“The electric carriages alternative provides a safe and responsible option for rides within Central Park and certain areas of Manhattan,” read the release on the proposed legislation, which has been filed but yet to be passed.
“I appreciate all of the concerned advocates, celebrities and non-celebrities alike, who are speaking up in favor of my bill to transition to clean, humane, horseless carriages and give carriage drivers better-paying jobs,” said Councilman Holden in a statement. “These abused horses can’t speak for themselves, so we are their voice. New York City has always been at the forefront of innovation and culture, but we are lagging behind when it comes to these poor horses. It’s time for us to be a model for other cities to follow. Intro 573 will be passed, with the help of animal lovers around the world.”
Ryder is now retired to a Clover Hill Farm more than 70 miles north of New York City in Wallkill New York.
Photo: Harry Durrant/Getty Images