Tourists and onlookers in Charleston, SC witnessed a heartbreaking scene Wednesday afternoon. A horse named Big John collapsed on a busy street, still harnessed to his first carriage tour of the day.
Images and videos of the incident spread like wildfire, bringing fresh awareness to an industry animal welfare groups say is not properly regulated.
Criticism for the horse-drawn carriage industry is nothing new, but the publicity surrounding Big John's story seems to have reignited passions.
Concerned animal lovers have speculated that Big John collapsed due to the heat or because the carriage was overloaded. He suffered minor abrasions to his left hock and right elbow. His vet and the city's equine manager cleared him to return to work immediately, but Big John's owners have opted to rest him until Saturday.
Broderick Christoff, owner of Charleston Carriage Works, the company that owns Big John, distributed a statement by email in which he claimed the horse merely stumbled as he rounded a street corner.
“He simply tripped over his own feet, fell down, and wisely waited for us to get there and unharness him before getting back up, which he did immediately afterwards," Christoff wrote. "He wasn't tired, didn't collapse, wasn't hot - simply tripped, which happens from time to time (to all of us)."
**WARNING: Some viewers may find this video disturbing.
An official report from the city of Charleston stated that the entire incident lasted only 11 minutes, and that Big John stood up as soon as the harness and tack equipment were removed.
"When it fell to it's rear, it decided to lay on it's side," Dan Riccio, director of the Charleston Department of Livability and Tourism, said. "If a horse attempts to get up with the equipment on, it can cause more harm than good. Based on yesterday's event, it appears the horse knew what to do."
Advocacy groups are calling for an official study into the Charleston carriage horse industry. Riccio says the city would welcome help with ensuring that carriages don't exceed the mandated weight restrictions. A typical draft horse weighs about 2,000 pounds and should not pull more than three times its weight, according to the report.
What do you make of the Big John incident? Do you believe the carriage horse industry needs to be reexamined?
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