The wreck of a horse-drawn carriage Saturday night on the Country Club Plaza revived decades-old complaints about using the animals in city traffic.
The accident, about 8:15 p.m. near Ward Parkway and Broadway, left three people and a horse injured. Witnesses said the horse appeared spooked as it ran loose into oncoming traffic before crashing the carriage into a wall.
As with any story involving an animal getting hurt, the news spread quickly on social media, and readers reacted. Among dozens of comments on Facebook, the majority called for an end to horse carriages on the Plaza.
“They need to stop those rides,” one commenter posted on The Star’s Facebook page. “Not safe. Poor horses and people.”
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“It’s animal cruelty!” another wrote.
“Is anyone going to start a petition to stop this?” one reader asked.
Others pushed back, arguing that the horses are not mistreated.
The argument over horse-drawn carriages is an old one, carried on by animal-rights advocates who have said the horses suffer on the job amid noisy vehicles, are at risk for injury and can be dangerous if they panic.
While witnesses to Saturday night’s crash said it appeared the horse was out of control, it remains unclear what prompted the horse to bolt. Also unknown Sunday was the fate of the horse and the extent of injuries to the driver and two passengers.
Kansas City Carriages is the operator of the Plaza carriages and owner of the horse injured in the wreck. A company recording said it was closed Sunday because of a family emergency. The carriages are not controlled by the owners of the Plaza but are regulated by the city.
In Kansas City, public concerns about horse-drawn carriages reached a high point in 1996, when the deaths of two horses that collapsed on the Plaza sparked protests and led to tighter city regulations.
Those horses died from disease, and criticism then focused on whether the horses were overworked. The carriage company that owned the horses said the animals were cared for well and that pulling carriages was relatively easy work for a horse.
But the Kansas City Council responded with an ordinance cutting the number of allowed carriages from 30 to 20 and requiring autopsy reports for horses that die on the job, among other rules.
Public debate over the horses returned to focus on their safety in traffic three years ago, when a Kansas City man circulated a petition to stop the carriage rides.
“If a horse is spooked, it’s a hazard for everyone,” the petition, posted to Change.org, read. “These animals do not deserve to suffer daily for the frivolous entertainment of people.”
The petition claimed 1,992 signatures but fell short of its goal of 2,500.
The Humane Society of the United States opposes horse-drawn carriages, arguing that horses, as natural prey animals, are easily startled and don’t belong on roads with cars. Organized opposition to horse-drawn carriages is strongest in New York, where activists have pushed, without success, for a ban.
On social media, some who read about Saturday night’s accident defended the horse-drawn carriages, sharing fond memories of holiday carriage rides or arguing that employment saves the horses from possible slaughter.
On Sunday, Kansas City police released no new details about the injured.
Witnesses said the horse seemed to be out of control before heading into oncoming traffic and striking a wall. The impact ejected the driver over the wall, down a hill and onto a sidewalk along Brush Creek.
“We heard galloping,” said Jason Haas of Kansas City, who was on the Plaza with his fiancée and child. “The horse pulling the carriage was tearing down the road, I mean full-sprint. The driver, you could see her pulling on the strap, but it wasn’t slowing the horse down.”
Haas said the carriage barely missed being struck by two cars as it crossed the intersection before the wreck. The horse seemed unable to stand up when crews worked to remove it in a trailer, he said.
Two passengers walked into an ambulance on their own and were taken to a hospital. None of those hurt appeared to have life-threatening injuries.