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For Central Park Carriage Horse, Death Arrives Inelegantly

[Editor's note:  Please note that the horse who died was first identified as Rusty in the 9/15 issue of the NY Times - then as Juliet on 9/16. Both horses are listed on the Department of Health roles. This is an odd "mistake" - the driver offering up the wrong name. Were there two horses? Was Juliet being double shifted and wearing Rusty's tags? Is anyone investigating?]

The New York Times - September 16, 2006

Juliet the carriage horse held forth for about two decades on the south end of Central Park taking tourists on slow romantic rides through the park. She was the cute white horse whose owner outfitted her head with the elegant white tassel that bobbed as she clip-clopped ahead of her carriage on loops from the Plaza Hotel to Tavern on the Green and other prominent spots.

But as elegant as Juliet was in life, she was undeniably inelegant in death on a rainy morning yesterday, lying flat on her back on the dungy concrete floor of a Hell’s Kitchen stable, her legs stiff in the air.

“I can’t believe this is my baby, Juliet,” said her owner, Antonio Provenzano, 47, of Brooklyn as he lifted a blue tarp off the horse. “For a million tourists, she was what they remember of Manhattan. Her picture is all over the world. And look at her now.”

She lay lifeless as the day shift of carriage drivers hitched up their horses and clopped out to work. Only Mr. Provenzano and a coterie of skinny cats seemed interested in her at the West Side Livery stable on West 38th Street near 11th Avenue. Never again would she come home to her third floor stall, with the window looking out on Midtown’s skyscrapers and high rises, and enjoy her hay and salt lick.

But Mr. Provenzano had more than his grief to deal with yesterday. Enforcement officers from the A.S.P.C.A. arrived at the stable and took Juliet’s body away for a necropsy and opened an investigation into her death based upon an incident Thursday night that attracted an angry crowd and the police.

Juliet collapsed in Central Park about 9:30 and Mr. Provenzano, who said he was acting on telephone orders from his veterinarian, began striking her repeatedly in the flank with his thin five-foot whip to get her to her feet again, prompting a crowd of onlookers to begin yelling at him.

“I’m trying to save my horse’s life and all of a sudden, everyone’s yelling, ‘Stop beating that horse; you’re going to kill it,’ ” he said. “Some big guy told me to stop or he would punch me. Then a cop showed up and said to stop or he’d arrest me. He was about to pull his gun out. All this while I have the vet on the phone telling me to keep hitting her to get her up.”

He said that Juliet probably had colic and he was told to get her to walk to rid herself of gas and waste.

“I’ve been around horses 30 years and I love my horse,” he said. “They think I want to hurt her?” When the veterinarian and officers from the mounted unit showed up at the park Thursday night, Mr. Provenzano was told he could resume the whipping.

Juliet climbed to her feet several times but promptly collapsed again. An employee from the Ritz Carlton nearby brought over a rug for the horse, and with great effort Juliet was placed on it, dragged into a police trailer and taken to the stable on 38th Street. After several hours of treatment by Mr. Provenzano and his veterinarian, Juliet died about 5 a.m. Her owner curled up in his carriage and tried to sleep.

Juliet was well-known among the carriage horses that are a staple of southern Central Park and are kept in stables in the area of westernmost Midtown that still has the feel of the old Hell’s Kitchen.

Part Percheron, part American draft, she was likely a former farm horse in her 20’s bought at auction in Pennsylvania and had begun pulling a carriage at least 17 years ago, Mr. Provenzano said. He said she quickly adapted to her urban environment, ignoring horns and sirens and avoiding potholes.

“She was called Juliet because everybody fell in love with her, like ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” Mr. Provenzano said. “Think about all the people this horse gave rides to.’’

Mr. Provenzano said Juliet had had several owners over the years before he bought her last year for $1,700. He used her to work nights, pulling his green cab, six nights a week ever since.

“That horse was a member of my family,” he said. “I told my mother she died and my mom started crying.”

“I have no money to get another horse,” he said. “I have a wife and two sons to support. Two things I can do: make pizza and drive a horse.”

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