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July 01, 2024

Horse that died during Cape May carriage ride showed no signs of abuse, veterinary exam finds

The 18-year-old Percheron likely suffered a fatal blood clot or heart attack, a medical evaluation concludes. The animal's death sparked criticism from animal rights activists.

Investigations Horses
Cape May Horse Chantel Semanchik/Cape May Carriage Company/Facebook

Ice, an 18-year-old horse owned by Cape May Carriage Company, collapsed and died during a tour of the Jersey Shore community on June 27. A necropsy suggets he died of a sudden blood clot or heart attack.

A horse that collapsed and died last week while pulling tourists in a carriage in Cape May appears to have suffered from a sudden blood clot or heart attack, according to a veterinary examination into its death. The horse's death had prompted backlash against the animals' handlers, but the medical evaluation found no apparent signs of abuse or neglect.

The 18-year-old Percheron collapsed at 8 p.m. Thursday during one of Cape May Carriage Company's private tours of the historic shore town. The draft horse, named Ice, first went to his knees and then attempted to get up. The horse then went down a second time and died.

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"It unfortunately happened on one of the busiest areas in town while on a tour," Chantel Semanchik, the owner of the carriage company, wrote on Facebook. "He was completely normal ... just stopped, peacefully laid down & passed."

Cape May Police and public works officials took Ice back to the company's stables near Ocean and Washington streets. There were no reported injuries to the people on the carriage ride. The exact location of the horse's collapse has not been reported. 

Semanchik said heat was not a factor in Ice's death. The temperature in Cape May was about 70 degrees with a cool breeze.

"Our business and character is being attacked by radical animal rights groups and just plain uneducated people," she wrote. "This was a very sad situation for not only us but the staff."

In a follow-up post on Saturday, Semanchik included a copy of the necropsy report completed by Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center in Hunterdon County. The report didn't discover any unusual medical findings that would have explained Ice's death.

"Ice appeared to be otherwise very healthy, and on our examination no signs of abuse or neglect were found," the report said.

💜 OFFICIAL STATEMENT 💜 - from Cape May Carriage Company FIrst I want to THANK the hundreds of people who have openly...

Posted by Chantel Semanchik on Saturday, June 29, 2024

Some animal rights and welfare organizations argue that horse-drawn carriages are inherently cruel and that there are alternative ways to give people similar tour experiences. For years, groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have protested in Philadelphia, New York and other cities to end or reform the practice. 

Philadelphia's last remaining carriage company halted operations last year and its former competitor was shut down by the city in 2017 because of unsafe stable conditions. In New York, laws now restrict the use of horse drawn carriages in extreme heat above 90 degrees, but activists contend some companies have been out of compliance this summer.

In response to Ice's death, an online petition was created calling for an end to horse-drawn carriages in favor of tours "that preserve the charm of a carriage ride while eliminating animal exploitation."

Semanchik acknowledged the ethical debate about horse-drawn carriages, but said her company is dedicated to providing good lives for its horses. The company's tours carry up to four adults and two small children in a carriage. 

"To those who have made all those horrible accusations and nasty comments ... (you're) all entitled to your opinion, but I would encourage you to learn the true meaning of animal cruelty & neglect," Semanchik wrote. "If you truly knew what it looks like you would immediately know that our horses are neither."

Ice weighed about 1,900 pounds and had a white coat. Draft horses are bred to be large working animals that can haul freight or people. A Percheron is a breed of draft horse that originated in France and can live 25-30 years.

"We are truly sorry that this happened in town for everyone to witness," Semanchik wrote. "ICE had a wonderful life with us where he was well cared for and loved (by) many."