The four-legged melee injured the horse-drawn carriage's two passengers and its driver, who were treated at local hospitals, police said. The extent of their injuries wasn't immediately available.
Emergency responders raced to the scene at Seventh Avenue and Central Park South at 4:20 p.m. after the scared animal broke free from its carriage, bolted through traffic and apparently ran into a parked car, officials said.
The brown and white horse was spotted a short while later tied to a lamp post on the west side of Ninth Avenue between West 57th and 58th streets.
The animal, who was still wearing a harness adorned with red velvet, had bloody cuts on its nose. The horse appeared to panic and whinny, then fell on its side. The NYPD's Mounted Unit took the horse back to its home stable on West 52nd Street and 12th Avenue, police said.
A tourist said he saw the immediate aftermath of the carriage crash at West 60th and Broadway. Chris Harvie, a visitor from Australia, said he saw an overturned carriage, but no horse. The carriage appeared to have collided with a black sedan. One of the carriage's rear wheels was completely destroyed, Harvie said.
"The carriage was on its side," Harvie said. "The very nice black shiny limo was covered in horse poo."
A carriage driver who saw NYPD personnel bring the horse back to the stables said the creature appeared to be fine. "He was on all four legs and he walked up the stairs to the stable," said carriage driver Christina Hansen, 32, who drives a 9-year-old horse named Tyson. "All things considered, he seemed pretty calm."
Hansen said carriage harnesses are designed to break free in the event of an accident to protect horses from injury. She noted that the scared horse seemed be heading home, in the direction of the stables, after it got spooked.
A June accident involving a carriage horse, a motorcycle and an SUV at Columbus Circle injured the horse and renewed criticism of the carriage horse industry, which has come under fire from animal rights activists.
Priscilla Feral, president of the advocacy group Friends of Animals, said Thursday's accident was another reminder that horses don't belong in an urban setting.
"We return to the same theme over and over again about whether New York City could possibly be the right environment for a horse, and it can't," Feral said. "You can't make it sane, you can't make it safe. The chaotic streets of New York aren't going to work for a horse and it's a dangerous situation for drivers, tourists, for everybody."
Feral said her group would gladly help place New York's estimated 220 carriage horses in safe sanctuaries where they could live out their remaining days "with dignity."
But Hansen, who said she's worked for years with horses and helped set up sanctuaries for carriage horses, defended the industry. "We do everything we can to have a safe work environment for the horses because it's our safety too," Hansen said. "These horses are the most regulated, most public, most seen horses in the world."