Chicago police crews converged on a property in the West Town neighborhood on Friday as part of an investigation into the alleged neglect of several horses by a carriage operator.
The investigation focuses on five to seven horses found in a vacant field inside a tent at 1501 N. Magnolia Ave., according to police News Affairs Officer Laura Kubiak.
The tent had a tarp over it that likely offered little protection in the brutal cold, CBS2chicago.com reported.
The stable is operated by J.C. Cutter, which told NBC Chicago in October, "We love our work and our horses. The horses are thoroughly examined every three months by a veterinarian."
She did not know what time the horses were discovered, but said police and representatives of three animal protection agencies were at the scene late Friday morning.
Rescue crews had to get through a gate that was chained shut and blocking access, according to CBS2 Chicago.
In an apparent coincidence, a story about the demise of one of Chicago's best-known carriage operators appeared in the Chicago Tribune Friday morning.
Tribune writer Sara Olkon reported that Nobel Horse Carriage Company in Old Town has ceased operations and closed the doors of its Nobel Theater, where staged equine performances were held in its riding hall --- until recently.
"We are essentially closed," said Dan Sampson, the owner of Noble Horse Theatre. He puts the blame for the company's failure squarely on the city.
Sampson said that the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection shuttered two prime carriage staging locations on Michigan Avenue: one at Pearson Street and one at Superior Street. The city made the move following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He said the city's rules were fatal to his business.
While carriage companies are allowed to operate out of other designated locations, none are as visible to tourists as the Magnificent Mile spots were.
The Tribune said that Chicago's commissioner of consumer services, Norma Reyes, offered an option for the industry to participate in a lottery last season that designated permanent spots for the horse-drawn carriages. But the lottery was rejected by the carriage operators, city officials and the operators said.
Sampson called the lottery a "preposterous" system that scattered the horse staging spots at "random spots that have no tourist value."
The city has said that it will revisit the issue for the next carriage season, but that may be too late for many of the carriage companies.
Whether today's rescue operation in West Town is a sign of the industry's struggles has yet to be seen, but in this down economy, the $70 an hour carriage rides along Michigan Avenue may end up being a thing of the past.