‘Ryder deserves better’: Queens councilman joins activists in calling for criminal abuse charges against horse carriage driver

Activists and elected officials rallied outside the Manhattan DA’s office Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 16, calling on DA Alvin Bragg to bring criminal charges against a horse carriage driver after videos of the horse Ryder collapsing in Midtown went viral. (Photo by Dean Moses)

Activists and elected officials rallied outside the Manhattan DA’s office Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 16, calling on DA Alvin Bragg to bring criminal charges against a carriage driver after videos of a horse collapsing in Midtown went viral.

The videos, which circulated on social media last week, saw the horse, named Ryder, collapse in Hell’s Kitchen before NYPD officers hosed him down with water until he eventually got back up. Photos also emerged of the horse’s owner, Ian McKeever, allegedly abusing the animal.

Tuesday’s rally was organized by activist group New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), along with Councilman Robert Holden who represents District 30 in Queens.

Edita Birnkrant, executive director of NYCLASS, spoke at the demonstration and said that Ryder’s condition was a result of long-term neglect and abuse.

Edita Birnkrant speaking at the rally. (Photo by Dean Moses)

“This was not a spontaneous tragedy. Hours before Ryder collapsed on Aug. 10, he was seen struggling to walk, falling to his knees, while Ian McKeever whipped and screamed at him to keep moving,” Birnkrant said. 

“The fact that Ryder displayed neurological signs of muscle atrophy, poor body condition, so underweight, these are chronic conditions, not short-term conditions. These are clear evidence of long-term neglect and criminal animal cruelty.”

Birnkrant called on Bragg to bring criminal charges against McKeever for carriage horse abuse. 

“We expect the DA to do his job and prosecute these crimes,” Birnkrant said. “This person has got to be held accountable and this animal abuse has got to end.”

The executive director slammed New York’s leaders and institutions and said they should be ashamed that this abuse is happening in the city.

“This is a worldwide shame for New York City and for the City Council and for the mayor to allow criminal animal abuse to happen on our streets every day,” Birnkrant said.

Councilman Holden introduced a bill titled ‘Intro 573’ last month which would replace horse-drawn carriages with electric ones. If passed, the new measure would also require owners to pay drivers a prevailing wage.

Councilman Robert Holden at the rally. (Photo by Dean Moses)

When asked why it has been such a heavy political lift to garner support for this bill, the councilman responded that some members are most concerned with getting re-elected. 

“They’d rather get re-elected than do the right thing. And those people shouldn’t be re-elected. They’re not signing on and I’m not afraid to say that,” Holden said. 

Holden said that the bill currently has 13 co-sponsors and requires another 13. The councilman also revealed that if passed, the bill will be named the “Ryder Bill.”

Holden echoed Birnkrant’s suggestion to Bragg to bring criminal charges against McKeever for the alleged abuse.

“We are calling on DA Bragg to do his job and investigate this horse, this driver, and this industry by the way,” Holden said. “We want a full account. Four horses collapsed, and one died in the last four months. When is enough enough?”

Holden was also asked what he would say to the New Yorkers that claim that horse-drawn carriages are a tradition in the city.

“The circus was also once a tradition. Why are we allowing abuse to occur in our city, so tourists can have an experience?” Holden said.

“Animal abuse is not a tradition,” one protester yelled out from the crowd.

Activist Brian Gari (Photo by Dean Moses)

Eyewitness Caroline Smidt gave her testimony from the day of the incident where she claimed she witnessed McKeever abusing Ryder in Central Park hours before he collapsed on the Manhattan Street.

“This past Wednesday, Aug. 10, around 1 p.m., I was in Central Park with my husband and our daughter. We were walking around Central Park taking pictures when I noticed this horse barely walking,” said Smidt, who was visibly emotional while giving her account and stopped several times to compose herself, before continuing the relay the events of the day. 

“He was walking with his tongue out and he appeared malnourished, his ribs were showing — this horse was obviously suffering,” Smidt added. “As the animal struggled to walk the man was yelling and cursing at him to move faster. My heart shattered. And I could not believe the injustice and cruelty that was being put in front of me.”

Smidt took photos of Ryder, which were shared with QNS. One photo shows the horse’s ribs protruding as he pulls the carriage. 

Ryder walking through Central Park earlier that day. (Photo courtesy of Caroline Smidt)

Smidt said that when she arrived home later that day, she saw the viral video of Ryder collapsed in the street, hours after she had taken photos of him in Central Park.

“This poor horse looked like he was going to collapse right in front of me and this man worked him for another four hours,” Smidt said. “I don’t know what I’m more upset by, the fact that I saw this man screaming and hitting this horse with his rap as the horse was barely struggling to walk, or that when the horse collapsed and the NYPD officers were trying to revive him, the man was sitting with his feet up reading the paper without a care in the world that this horse was collapsed on the floor dying right in front of him.”

Smidt slammed the horse carriage industry as inhumane and requested that McKeever be charged for animal cruelty.  

“This is unethical. This is inhumane. This man is ruthless. He has no heart and he should not own any animal whatsoever. I request that this man be investigated, and charged with animal cruelty. Ryder deserves better. He deserves love, compassion, respect,” Smidt said.

In an interview with QNS, Birnkrant said that there are two other witnesses who claim to have seen Ryder falling to his knees at 3 p.m. Birnkrant said that the witnesses were not present today for fear of retaliation from the horse carriage industry. 

“They work in the park and they are afraid to speak out in case they suffer backlash from the carriage drivers,” Birnkrant said. 

Birnkrant also claimed that the veterinarian who was called to examine Ryder after the incident was Dr. Camilo Sierra, who is assigned to care for Central Park horses and has faced suspension in the past.

“Dr. Sierra has a history of illegal, harmful behavior to horses. As of now, there has not been any other vet to check out this horse. We do not take anything that he says seriously at this point, because he is a disgraced veterinarian,” Birnkrant said. 

In the moments between speeches, the crowd of activities chanted, “No excuse, prosecute abuse” repeatedly.  

Photo by Dean Moses

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