Draft Horse That Bolted May End Up on Easy Street

Oreo, the runaway horse who dumped his carriage driver and two passengers near Columbus Circle on Thursday, may have bolted his way into an easier lifestyle.

17 August 2012
Oreo, the runaway horse who dumped his carriage driver and two passengers near Columbus Circle on Thursday, may have bolted his way into an easier lifestyle.

Oreo, the runaway horse who dumped his carriage driver and two passengers near Columbus Circle on Thursday, may have bolted his way into an easier lifestyle.

Oreo, the horse that dumped his carriage and ran amok near Columbus Circle on Thursday, at the Clinton Park Stables on Friday.

Until that moment, Oreo, a 6-year-old draft gelding, had a typical story.

Like many of his fellow carriage horses, he was born in Pennsylvania. He had worked his trade for five years, gobbling several bags of carrots each night.

On Thursday, he was pulling his red-and-white carriage with its jaunty flower bouquet near Central Park, as he usually did, but that afternoon turned out to be anything but usual.

Something spooked him so badly that he took off running through the busy intersection at Columbus Circle, shedding his passengers, his driver and his carriage before being caught on Ninth Avenue. (The driver, Mehmet Dunbar, and a male passenger who was also injured, were released from the hospital by Friday morning.)

Oreo, who is young by draft-horse standards, was destined to pull carriages for at least several more years. But his owner, Frank Nolan, has decided a midcareer change may be in order, said Stephen Malone, a longtime carriage driver and spokesman for the Horse and Carriage Association of New York.

“When a horse suffers a traumatic experience like that, we don’t want anything to happen in the future,” Mr. Malone said. Though Oreo suffered no more than a scratch or two, Mr. Malone said, he will most likely need several weeks to recover and readjust to city noise.

Standing 16 hands high and weighing 1,700 pounds, Oreo has a deep brown splashing the front of his white body. He was examined by two veterinarians on Thursday and suspended from carriage work for seven days, Mr. Malone said. A spokesman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which monitors New York’s carriage horses, said that if Oreo were to work again, he would have to pass a full examination.

Oreo has several options. He may pull carriages in less urban settings, freelance in parades and weddings, or even try the trail-riding business. Or he could go private: Mr. Malone said the stables had already fielded several calls from people wanting to give Oreo a new home, possibly buying him for leisure.

But for a glimpse of what probably lies in store for Oreo, one need only look to Paddy, a 17-year-old Percheron who retired in May after 12 years in the carriage force. He is living out his days at Blue Star Equiculture, a draft-horse sanctuary and organic farm in Palmer, Mass., that takes in New York carriage horses.

If Paddy’s months in the green pastures of central Massachusetts are any indication, a life of pleasure may await Oreo.

“Paddy has a girlfriend,” said Pamela Rickenbach, Blue Star’s director. “He’s having a great time.”

The “girl” in question is a Belgian named Cami, rescued by Blue Star from a New Jersey auction house known for sending horses to the slaughterhouse. In her first months at the farm, Cami refused to eat and watched the road as if pining for her former owner, Ms. Rickenbach said. But since Paddy arrived, the two have been inseparable, and Cami has put on 150 pounds.

Paddy, a tall, white horse, keeps active, marching in local parades and teaching younger horses to stand in a harness. He is also something of a celebrity: Ms. Rickenbach said people have come from all over the Northeast to visit him.

Oreo may be dreaming of greener pastures, but some animal rights groups expressed concern that many carriage horses ultimately end up in slaughterhouses. Carriage horse owners say they try to avoid that fate for their animals, though.

Meanwhile, Oreo probably does not know that he has become a flash point in the reignited debate over New York’s carriage horses. Several animal rights groups and anti-carriage groups are backing previously proposed City Council legislation that would either ban horse-drawn carriages or replace them with “horseless carriages,” electric cars driven by the former carriage drivers.

Scott Levenson, a spokesman for New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, one of the groups fighting for the legislation, said hundreds of people had contacted his group after hearing about Oreo’s getaway. Last year, there were at least seven instances of a horse getting spooked, colliding with a vehicle or collapsing, events that animal advocates say harm the horses and endanger the public. The group’s online petition that supports the City Council legislation had gathered more than 91,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon, up from about 86,000 on Wednesday.

But the legislation lacks support from crucial city officials, including the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

“In our society, we have, from cave-man times, used animals as part of our economy. We eat them,” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on WOR-AM on Friday morning. Of the horse-drawn carriages, he said, “I think it’s something that a lot of tourists really love. It makes New York, New York.”

Oreo, for his part, had little to contribute. In his stall at the Clinton Park Stables on Friday afternoon, he tore hay from his feeder and stoically accepted the pats from the reporters and photographers who came to see him, ready, it seemed, for a quieter life.


Do you like this post?