I have to admit when I saw the headline of this story (“Driverless Amish buggy crashes in Watertown”), the first thing that came to mind were driverless cars.

Had Amish in some under-the-radar settlement stealthily adopted battery-powered self-driving buggies when no one was looking? Some Amish absorb change faster than others…but that would be quite a leap.

Damaged Amish buggy and fireman

The buggy sustained significant damage. Image: WWNY

But of course, that’s not what this was. Here we simply have another case of a regular horse-powered buggy, which somehow got loose on the road sans Amish driver. Luckily, things concluded without major injuries to either horse or humans. So what happened? From WWNY:

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) – An Amish buggy without a driver to control the horses traveled roughly two miles on one of Watertown’s busiest streets before colliding with vehicles.

City police said the driver, Joseph Zook (no age or address available), parked his buggy at Lowe’s Home Improvement on Route 3, also known as outer Arsenal Street, in the town of Watertown.

While Zook was inside, officials said the two horses got free and wound up pulling the buggy onto the street and continued traveling toward downtown Watertown.

Police said the horses collided with a couple of vehicles at around 3 p.m. on Arsenal Street in front of Walgreens near the intersection of Bellew Avenue.

The two horses were injured and a member of the Amish community retrieved them to take them to a farm. It appeared the animals were not seriously hurt.

Sounds like it was a lucky ride for both the horses and the residents of Watertown. A two mile ride at let’s say eight miles per hour is still about 15 minutes on the road without a human at the reins. If they had crossed the lane or turned into oncoming traffic, this could be a much sadder story. As it happens no people were injured and it sounds like the horses are going to be okay.

Far from the first time

This type of thing happens often enough. Just recently we had the story of a horse taking off with a baby in the buggy, only to be happily found about two hours later. In a similar incident, a state trooper had to chase down a driverless buggy to rescue an Amish toddler inside.

Runaway Amish horses have gone a lot further than in this example; in 2017 a horse exhausted itself after hauling an empty buggy ten miles in Wayne County, Ohio. And unfortunately these horses sometimes cause accidents, as in this head-on collision in Tennessee, or this accident in Pennsylvania which left a woman seriously injured.

Amish horse petted by fireman

Did one follow the other’s lead? One of the two lucky horses. Image: WWNY

This may be the first case I’ve seen where a pair of horses decide to take off together without their owner. It’s not that common to have two horses pulling a buggy, but some Amish do it, as it increases the range a buggy can travel. The owner may have had a lot of stops planned that day. But how did the horses get free? Joseph Zook says that he doesn’t know.

I can see just two options here. Either they weren’t secured tightly enough, or someone came along and released them. Option #2 would be not just a “prank” but would seem more like a criminal act.

So unless there is a dark side to this tale, I would bet they simply weren’t secured well enough. And I imagine some horses are better at getting loose than others. Joseph Zook will have a story to tell – and I guess will be extra-vigilant from now on, when it comes to tying up his hooved haulers.

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