This open letter was sent to the Charleston Mayor, City Council, Charleston Animal Society and City officials on May 2, 2017. It was in response to the recent accident involving Big John, pictured above. We hope that the recipients listen to what we have to say and take real positive action for the horses.
An open letter to the Charleston Animal Society and City of Charleston about the carriage horse industry
The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages and Friends of Animals support a ban on urban horse-drawn carriages because the industry is inherently inhumane. We do not support regulations, which clearly do not work. We ask that you stand with the horses and have the courage to advocate for a ban.
WHY IT’S INHERENTLY INHUMANE: Like New York City, Charleston has an inherently inhumane carriage trade. In Charleston, it is characterized by accidents, horses working in extreme heat and humidity and the image of a struggling horse pulling a wagon of 17 people. And like New York, the only solution is an outright ban. It is not an industry that can be regulated and transformed into a humane one. We have learned that over a period of more than 30 years.
Horses are prey animals, skittish by nature and are predictably unpredictable. They are accidents waiting to happen and can spook at the slightest provocation when confronted with any kind of stimuli. They will become unwitting weapons, injuring or killing themselves or innocent passersby. They can also cause serious property damage. Their nature is indisputable and no amount of driver training or reports can change that.
Regulations give the appearance of protecting the horses — whether in New York City or Charleston — but they further entrench the industry and are very difficult to enforce. One example is the recent announcement from Charleston lowering the heat limits for working carriage horses from 98 degrees to 95 degrees, five degrees higher than New York City, which is still too hot for horses to work.
OTHER CITIES and EVOLVING PUBLIC OPINION: There have been campaigns in cities across the world to end these inhumane and frivolous carriage rides. They include Atlanta, Savannah, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Chicago, Dallas, St. Augustine, St. Louis, Bermuda, Cartagena/Colombia, Dublin, Montreal, Victoria British Columbia, Vienna, Rome, Florence, Barcelona, Berlin, Cozumel, Nassau/Bahamas, Melbourne/Australia, Mumbai and New Delhi/India and the Gili Island, Indonesia. Many of these campaigns are less than 10 years old and admittedly it is very challenging to change an institutionalized, antiquated profit-driven practice that uses horses as product to be tossed aside when they are no longer able to pull a wagon.
But our society is evolving and people are becoming more and more sensitized to compassion for animals, and they want action. In that time, Salt Lake City, Old San Juan, Asheville, N.C. (effective in 2018) and Mumbai have banned horse-drawn carriages. When these challenges do not exist, some cities such as Camden, N.J., have actually banned horse drawn carriage businesses from starting. City officials have seen the problems in other cities that support the trade, which include accidents that have involved both animal and human injuries and deaths — all leading to protests and bad publicity for that city.
The question has essentially come down to this — are horses here for our entertainment to do with as we please, exploit for profit and cast aside when no longer needed — or are they other nations as Henry Beston, writer and naturalist referred to them in the Outermost House, published in 1928 — animals to be respected and who exist for their own reasons?
STUDY QUESTIONED: We question the time and effort the Charleston Animal Society is putting into promoting a “peer reviewed, science based study” based on standards from organizations like the American Association of Equine Practitioners, (AAEP) which supports the “use” of animals in entertainment enterprises that includes carriage operations and rodeos — a source of income for many of its members. They also support the inhumane PMU industry, which is the collection of pregnant mare urine. (Premarin) The AAEP is associated with the Animal Welfare Council and the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which unabashedly supports horse slaughter. Charleston’s Palmetto Carriage Works recently joined with the Unwanted Horse Coalition. The AAEP was also a strong defender of the NYC carriage trade.
While horses may truly be beloved family members to some, to others they are “agricultural” animals – products – and cast aside to auction (slaughter) when no longer wanted. The phrase “Unwanted Horse” was first coined by the AAEP in 2005 and is defined as “horses that are no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old, injured, sick, unmanageable, or fail to meet their owner’s expectations. Generally, these are horses with incurable lameness, behavior problems, are dangerous or old.” This article — “The Unwanted Horse in the US” goes on and on and was written by past president of the AAEP, Tom Lentz in 2008 for the journal of Equine Veterinary Science. The truth is that most slaughter-bound horses are perfectly healthy and young — more like 4-6 years old.
So the question begs – why would the Charleston Animal Society want to be involved with this organization whose interests have been well stated and whose results will most likely not be favorable to the horses? Why support a study whose results can only result in more unenforceable regulations — if even that. A different point of view about horse slaughter can be found on the website of the Equine Welfare Alliance.
A BAN IS THE ONLY ETHICAL SOLUTION: Why not simply take the moral and ethical stance for the horses and ask for the industry to come to an end? It is past time for this position. This is an outdated industry and projects a very bad light on Charleston. There are other humane alternatives such as retrofitting the already existing carriages, turning them into battery operated motorized conveyances without horses.
Priscilla Feral is the president of Friends of Animals, an international animal advocacy organization that protects animals from cruelty and institutionalized exploitation around the world.
Elizabeth Forel is president of The Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages, which was was formed in 2006 in response to a tragic carriage horse accident that resulted in a horse named Spotty being so badly injured that he had to be euthanized.