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.






  • tangledvine

    “The thing is, these horses live to do this. They love this. They get all the attentions. That’s what they live for.” Well, Mr. Kirk, I think you should let ME write YOUR obituary. I can sling shit too.

  • Margaret Creamer

    I own/operate a 1 carriage business in a Texas tourist town. I have 2 Belgian mares which I alternate on my carriage. I have owned horses since I was 6 years old and Love this business! I treat my girls very well, my whole life revolves around them. I often let them decide who gets to work and one always volunteers! Yes we work harder in Dec than any other time but we take Jan off and the horses still eat. If I didn’t do this I could not afford horses and my girls would go elsewhere, very probably to a bad situation or death. Everyone in town knows how much I love my horses and how well I care for them and are very happy I am here. I would be devastated if this happened to one of mine but it would not stop my business. RIP King

  • Margaret Creamer

    Has anyone who thinks pulling a carriage is cruel ever looked at the horse racing business? Many, many horses die every year for people’s entertainment. Many horses are broken down and put down! I worked in the industry when I was young and it is VERY cruel! Get your facts strait people!

  • Larry

    Animals are not humans and it would be wrong to treat them as humans. They love pulling the carriages. Animals and people die.

  • Carriage Driver

    I dont think you understand hoe much money goes back into theses horses, horse shoes 275( a set with special protection from slipping, pads for comfort every 7 weeks), extremely good alfalfa hay 100 a big bale(we go through a lot of hay), grain made with specifications theses guys need for their individual body’s and ages (king was on equine senior and rice bran along with a senior horse supplement roughly 25 a day) vet check up every couple of months, vaccinations, that’s to name a little bit, not to mention the stalls cleaned daily and he fact they come to town in a air ride equipped semi.
    Do they make money ? Yes! Are the owner and drivers rich ? HA far from it but we do it cause we like working with these big great, noble creatures. Are face books are clogged with pictures of these big wondrous work partners. We treat them like they are our own horses. If you don’t like it is America and No one is making you patronize he carriage business ,

  • Ricky Rogers-SonShine Ranch

    Take it from a horse trainer you don’t put a 22 year old horse pulling a heavy wagon especially in cold weather – Had this horse been retired he’d still be living – Now who wants to debate with me on this subject, I’ll really give you some history and knowledge about equines??????

  • Tim

    Someone should tie you to a wagon and make you work til your heart gave out….after all, you’re ‘”just an animal.”

  • Carriage Driver

    exactly My Thoughts Debbie Kelly, bring it on … Seriously any one who leads with “horse trainer” makes me shake my head and walk away… No time for that. I work for the company and work with these horses and while it is a business these animals are well cared for. I treat them like I do my own.
    Not to mention I have personally seen 2 horses not carriage horses one was a 11 year old quarter horse cutting horse fall dead while in competition, Necropsy was done and he had a heart attack.
    The other was on a competitive trail ride and was a 8 year old Arabian gelding same thing one minute fine one minute gone.
    Further more the human society is with us and backing us 100% on this..

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