This summer's scorching heat has left city dwellers wishing they could quit work and head out to pasture. Two weeks ago a Manhattanite named Whitey managed to do just that—although it took a big scare to make his boss see the horse sense of a vacation.

A 9-year-old light-gray gelding, Whitey ordinarily spends his days pulling tourists around the city in a old-fashioned carriage. On one steamy August morning, the temperature was 90°F by 11:30 a.m. By 11:45 Whitey's driver, Joseph Hourgian, obeying a city law that prohibits carriage horses from working once the mercury hits 90, was guiding his mount toward home. Suddenly Whitey staggered. Overcome by the heat, he collapsed on the sticky pavement. Police and concerned passersby galloped to the rescue, but it took an IV saline solution and two hours of hosing with cool water before the fallen steed could be coaxed to stand.

Once back home at the Shamrock Stables on Manhattan's East Side, Whitey was examined by a vet who pronounced him basically healthy but recommended a little R and R. The ASPCA made the recommendation an order: Whitey, it decreed, must not work for 30 days.

Even before Whitey could pack his feed bag and head for a New Jersey horse farm, animal rights activists were rallying to his side. Cleveland Amory, head of the Fund for Animals, offered to buy him for $1,000 (no sale) and vowed to fight for better treatment of Whitey and his 125 Manhattan hoof-mates. "People look at carriage horses and think they're really strong, but they're frail," Amory says. "They're out in traffic, breathing pollution, and they never get a hug."

Others said that Whitey should not have been sent to the streets in the first place. "We were in the midst of a two-week heat wave," said ASPCA public affairs director Jeffrey Hon. "It showed a lack of humane consideration." (The society would like to see the temperature limit lowered and horse carriages allowed only in designated areas, such as Central Park.) But James Campbell, owner of Shamrock Stables, insisted that his 30 horses were well cared for. He suggested that any further inquiries be directed to Whitey himself.

For the moment, though, Whitey is much too busy to field questions. In his rural retreat, the farm of Bergen County police officer John Occhiuzzo, he has nine acres of pasture to romp in. Whitey feasts on grass, oats and hay and looks forward to the carrots or apples Occhiuzzo's 4-year-old son, Darren, brings him each morning. The city steed is even getting a taste of bucolic family life—his stablemates are a mare and her 4-month-old foal who accompany him everywhere. "He's very jovial, happy and spirited," says Marielaine Occhiuzzo, Whitey's hostess. With luck, the Whitey who returns to the urban rat race later this month will be a horse of a different color.