Owners of the Carriage for Hire company say Jerry the horse had abdominal pains that caused him to collapse on a hot afternoon in Salt Lake City.
The 13-year-old Jerry is recovering and is being treated for colic, but the debate his collapse caused is starting to heat up.
Jeremy Beckham of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals saw the incident and says horses are not suited for urban environments.
"Now we have a city that is packed with people, congested with cars and automobiles with exhaust, filled with loud noises that can easily startle a large horse," Beckham said. "So this is a new landscape for a horse, and so I think it's very unsafe for them to be in that kind of environment."
Beckham says the heat could have also been a factor in Jerry’s collapse.
"The ambient temperature was 97 degrees, but that horse is standing on black asphalt in an urban environment," he said. "So where he's standing it could have easily been more like 110 (degrees.)"
Horses historically have been beasts of burden: something Utah State University professor Kerry Rood of the animal, dairy and veterinary sciences department agrees with. Rood used to work for a vet clinic that treated Carriage for Hire’s horses and says the animals prefer to be worked.
"We see that when horses are given a purpose and attention and given a job, they have less behaviors associated with boredom," Rood said.
Rood also knows the owners and says they would never do anything to cause harm to their horses.
"In my mind, they would not do anything that would jeopardize or put harm to those horses unduly," he said. "I know that they care for them and they have those horses' best interests in their mind."
While Jerry recovers, a movement is in place to end the horse carriage practice in Salt Lake City. Beckham says thousands have signed a petition and spoken with the city to end this practice.
Rood doesn’t think this incident should stop horses from doing what they’re bred to do.
"It's one thing to say that maybe it's too hot out or the humidity is too high or maybe it's too cold or we have some sort of environmental influence here that is affecting the horses negatively," he said. "But to say that the whole industry is bad, for horse-pulled carriages, I think that just goes counterintuitive to what horses are designed, at least this breed of horse, what they are designed to do."
Eric is from Las Vegas, Nevada and studies broadcast journalism at Utah State. In joining the Utah Public Radio family, he has now delved into each of the "Big Three" of journalism: print, television and radio. His dream is to someday live and report the news in Chicago, Illinois (or wherever his career takes him.) In addition to reporting for UPR, Eric is the copy editor at the Utah Statesman and contributes to Aggie TV News.