About a year ago, a ten year old carriage horse named Aysha (sometimes spelled “Aisha”) died after collapsing in Central Park. Her fall was captured on video, causing an immediate uproar against the industry.
But a newly published press release by the Transport Workers Union, which represents the carriage drivers, says that experts who examined Aysha believed she was suffering from a preexisting condition, and that a veterinarian who performed an autopsy did not suspect any wrongdoing.
Dr. Camilo B. Sierra, an equine veterinarian who conducted a post-mortem examination of Aysha, said that “On physical exam, I found (this) horse in good condition, no evidence of struggle, no marks, no fractures, and no injuries consistent with abuse or mishandling.”
Vets suspected that Aysha had been suffering from Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy, or PSSM, which “negatively affects how animals convert food into energy and store it for future use in muscle cells.” Here are the medical reports the Transport Workers Union provided us with (with sensitive information redacted).
However, another veterinarian – Dr. Eileen Jefferson, who serves as the NYS Representative for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association – noted that while the post-mortem did in fact suggest Aysha was suffering from PSSM, it did not have to be the cause of her death.
Dr. Jefferson wrote that about 39% of Aysha’s breed suffer from the disease, and that it can be easily diagnosed. She also states that PSSM’s devastating effects are “preventable in nearly all cases through changes in dietary and exercise management.”
She continued to state that, “Despite such a high prevalence of this disease in draft horses, there has been no indication that the New York City carriage industry utilizes any of the available diagnostic screens to prevent the potentially excruciating and debilitating effects of PSSM.”
NYCLASS, an animal rights organization which has been fighting to ban New York’s horse carriage industry, argues that Aysha was killed by neglect and preventable disease, and is planning a March 1 protest at the Central Park entrance at 59th and Sixth Avenue.
? PROTEST MONDAY: Autopsy reveals NYC carriage horse Aysha KILLED by industry-wide neglect + preventable disease enabled by @nycHealthy – like so many other carriage horses. NY Veterinarian + NYCLASS call on @NYCCouncil to BAN the abuse. 12pm-1pm March 1: https://t.co/t3OAmUaeH1 pic.twitter.com/eyx7TT1qqk
— NYCLASS (@nyclass) February 28, 2021
NYCLASS says it plans to expose and explain the autopsy results, and to address a “lack of testing for common carriage horse ailments and diseases resulting in sick, diseased horses being worked and calling for City Council to ban horse carriage abuse.”
Edita Birnkrant, the executive director of NYCLASS, released the following statement:
“NYCLASS and outraged people around the world demanded to know what caused Aisha’s painful death. Although carriage driver representatives falsely claimed that a cardiac event was the likely cause of her death, veterinarians asserted that such episodes are actually the most unlikely, and that video footage was instead highly suggestive of a common neuromuscular disease. Recently obtained necropsy results revealed the true, undiagnosed and preventable cause of Aysha’s death. Aysha, like so many other carriage horses – ultimately died of a deeply-rooted industry-wide neglect that is enabled by NYC’s Department of Health. It allows the substandard treatment of these horses to persist.”
And here is a statement from Christina Hansen, a spokeswoman for the drivers:
“The carriage drivers are grateful for the work of equine veterinarians in caring for our horses. Once again, equine veterinarians and the regulators in the NYC Health Department are in agreement that the carriage horses are being properly cared for. On the one-year anniversary of Aysha’s tragic death, and with less than four months before the city primary elections, we are dismayed that her passing is being exploited and misrepresented by extremist special interests for political gain. Those lobbying groups are spreading lies on social media that Aysha was a victim of neglect and abuse, which is not only shameful and hurtful, but contradicted by all evidence. We want to share these medical records because the carriage folks have always been transparent and open about our horses’ lives and our work together. We’re still grieving for Aysha’s loss last year, but we’re also upset that activists continue to lie about her death to inflame the emotions of well-meaning animal lovers and politicians. As always, the men and women who care for and work with these magnificent horses are here to tell the truth and educate the public.”