A New York City carriage driver was charged with animal cruelty on Wednesday in a case arising from a feeble horse’s collapse on a busy Hell’s Kitchen street in August 2022.
The driver, Ian McKeever, was charged with a misdemeanor count of overdriving, torturing and injuring animals and failing to provide proper sustenance to the horse, Ryder, according to a criminal complaint.
“Ryder should not have been working on this hot summer day,” Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement. “Despite his condition, he was out for hours and worked to the point of collapse.”
Mr. McKeever, a 55-year-old Long Island resident, appears to be the first New York carriage driver to be accused of animal cruelty since 2013. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court and faces up to a year in jail if convicted. His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
New York’s horse carriage trade — a vestige of old-world charm to some and a form of animal abuse to others — is politically contentious, and the episode involving Ryder quickly became a flashpoint in the running debate over whether horses should be doing such work.
As described in the complaint and shown in bystander videos that were widely shared online, Ryder collapsed on Ninth Avenue near West 45th Street at around 5 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2022, while returning to his West 28th Street stable.
It was 84 degrees Fahrenheit at the time, the complaint says.
Video footage showed Mr. McKeever yelling at the still-harnessed horse while trying to get him back to his feet by slapping his hindquarters and tugging at his reins. Mr. McKeever also used a whip on Ryder, the complaint says, citing a witness.
Other footage showed police officers hosing Ryder off in an effort to cool him down as a crowd of concerned onlookers gathered and the rush-hour traffic continued moving behind him.
After about 45 minutes, the complaint says, officers managed to get Ryder upright, into a horse trailer and back to the stable.
Mr. McKeever told an officer at the scene that Ryder was a 13-year-old standardbred carriage horse and had been out working in Central Park since 9:30 that morning.
But a forensic veterinarian later estimated that Ryder was 26, not 13, and “should not have been working due to his advanced age and unhealthy, underweight body condition,” the complaint says.
The vet also said tests had suggested that Ryder, who was euthanized after being moved to a farm upstate in the wake of the collapse, had some type of cancer.
After the episode, the city’s health department assessed Mr. McKeever’s brother, Colm McKeever, who was Ryder’s owner, $2,000 in fines for submitting false information about the horse’s age on licensing documents.
Edita Birnkrant, the executive director of NYCLASS, an animal advocacy organization that has pushed for abolishing the horse carriage trade, praised Mr. Bragg for pursuing the case.
“We commend the Manhattan D.A. for pressing charges against Ian McKeever for his criminal abuse of Ryder,” Ms. Birnkrant said in a statement.
“However,” she continued, “these charges are not enough to end the suffering of so many other horses.”
Christina Hansen, a carriage driver and a spokeswoman for the industry, said she was “surprised” that the episode involving Ryder had resulted in a criminal case, especially after so much time had passed.
Ms. Hansen declined to comment on the charge against Mr. McKeever, but she acknowledged that Ryder should not have been working at the time he collapsed based on the forensic veterinarian’s assessment of the horse’s age and poor health.
Still, she added, what happened in Ryder’s case did not reflect the typical conditions experienced by the roughly 200 horses that work in Central Park, providing rides at a price of $63.70 for the first 20 minutes and $25.48 for each additional 10-minute increment.
“It’s the exception that proves the rule,” she said.