Photo courtesy of Flickr/Mitch Bennett
A horse in downtown St. Louis. One company that operates carriages there also has horses in St. Charles.
After a St. Charles carriage horse plunged into the icy waters of the Missouri River Wednesday night, an attorney who has previously criticized the local carriage horse industry had harsh words for the city and the company operating the service.
"This is a horrific tragedy that was entirely preventable, if only a government agency had just done its job and regulated this industry to protect the horses and protect the public," said Dan Kolde, a St. Louis lawyer who often works on animal abuse cases.
The horse, a thirteen-year-old named Cash, apparently got spooked while being loaded into a trailer at the end of a day's work
, around 9:30 p.m. He bolted through a parking lot, hitting several cars, before plunging into the river with his 1,300-pound carriage attached. The horse is believed to have died almost instantly due to the frigid water; emergency crews worked for hours to retrieve his body and the carriage.
A spokesman for the St. Charles Fire Department told the Post-Dispatch
that the horse was being loaded into a trailer when it was startled
. Apparently, its handler removed the blinders from its eyes before it was safely loaded in — a "horrible mistake," in the words of the carriage company owner.
But Kolde questioned how such a mistake was even possible. "Horses are easily spooked," he says. "And when they get frightened, they run." What kind of training, he asks, would have led a handler to make such an obvious error?
Kolde noted that the horse's owner, St. Louis Carriage Company, drew negative attention just last year after one of its horses, Bud, broke free of its handler and raced through downtown St. Louis. A company spokesman said at the time that the handler had let go of the reigns to help a passenger, in violation of company policy
. To Kolde, this deadly new incident seems eerily similar.
Kolde says he will press the city of St. Charles for a full investigation — but, based on the way other local governments have handled deaths involving other local carriage companies, he's not holding his breath. After a carriage horse died giving rides in Tilles Park a few years ago, he says, authorities promised a full investigation. Later, he used the Sunshine Law to see what that probe consisted of. "It was a one-page email to the company asking what happened," he says. "That was the extent of the investigation."
St. Charles Police referred questions about the incident to the St. Charles Fire Department. A spokesman did not return our call seeking comment by deadline.
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