Tilles Park horse dies while pulling carriage

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)– A sad event at a most unfortunate time:  that is what most are calling the death of a carriage horse Saturday night in the middle of the Winter Wonderland Christmas Light display in Tilles Park.

A witness in the carriage the horse was pulling tells Fox 2 the animal began acting strangely a few minutes after pulling into the light display, then fell.  The horse died moments later.

Jerry Kirk, the owner of Brookdale farms who provides the carriages, says the horse essentially had a heart attack.  He got the call moments after it happened.

“Obviously you get the big lump in your throat and want to see what’s going on.  Of course I’m right there on site, and I had personally just loaded the people on the carriage like four minutes prior to that.”

The horse, named King, was 22 year old Clydesdale.  Kirk purchased him four years ago, possibly saving him from going to slaughter.  He had reached a fairly advanced age for a horse so large.  Kirk says King had shown no signs of distress, and was only worked a couple of days a week due to his age.  He was also checked regularly by a veterinarian, just like all the horses at the stable.

“The thing about these draft horses is they live to do this.  That’s what they’re bred for.  That’s what they’re here for.  They love their work. They love to be out in the public.  They get all the attention.”

County officials say the incident was simply unavoidable.

Acting Parks Director Tom Ott issued a statement saying, “According to eyewitness accounts, the horse stopped, stretched and went down of an apparent heart attack. We are saddened by the loss of this beautiful animal but truly believe it died of natural causes.

“St. Louis County Parks works with Brookdale to ensure that the horses are being taken care of and aren’t in danger, especially during inclement weather.  Our parks staff makes sure roads are cleared of any snow or ice, and we have even cancelled the event on occasions when roads would put the public or the horses in danger. During Winter Wonderland at Tilles Park thousands of carriage rides are provided each year, and this is only the second time in our 28 years of the event that a horse has been lost.”

In this case, Kirk says it appears to have just been the horse’s time.

“Anytime you have animals sometimes things like this will happen.  And when it does happen in this kind of a situation it’s really, really bad.  It’s bad for us. It’s bad for the public. It’s bad for the people there.  But it’s just a part of life.”

We spoke to the Missouri Humane Society, and officials there also say the death appears to have been of natural causes.  No one we spoke to is alleging any sort of wrongdoing.