Humane Society wants horse-drawn carriages off city streets

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 21 2013 9:58 a.m. MDT

Riders are pulled in a carriage in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Three days after a horse collapsed while pulling a carriage downtown, the Humane Society of Utah is calling for an end to the use of carriage horses on city streets.

Humane Society spokesman Carl Arky said it's not a new stance, it's just one the organization is reiterating.

"It's a quaint idea. We understand why some people enjoy it, and they think it's a nice way for tourists to tour downtown, or even locals to do that," Arky said. "But at what cost? … What cost do we want to continue to see things like this happen?"

It was Saturday afternoon when Jerry, a horse from Carriage for Hire, collapsed on State Street just north of South Temple.

Jeremy Beckham, spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said he saw the horse being transported back to the barn. Beckham said the horse would not get up, so he was tied with ropes and straps and loaded into a trailer. A forklift was then used to move the horse into the barn, he said.

"If a horse had a serious health condition and had collapsed in a pasture or a stable, there wouldn't be a need to drag his body into a trailer somewhere else for him to get veterinary attention," Beckham said.

The situation, he said, "underscored" why horses shouldn't be in an urban environment.

"These photographs and these images and people really seeing what a collapsed horse on State Street looks like, I think that's galvanized a lot for the opposition we see now," Beckham said. "That combined with the fact that I think we're seeing a big social change in how we think we should be treating animals."

Arky said Humane Society officials felt they needed to speak up after Saturday's incident.

"The question always comes back to whether animals should be used for this purpose, and I think that’s what we’re trying to get to the heart of," he said. "(The question is) whether horses should be used in these conditions," citing temperature, traffic and vehicle exhaust.

An employee from Carriages for Hire who asked to remain nameless said Jerry is OK.

"It was colic, a terrible bout, and he's on the verge of recovery," the employee said.

Carriages for Hire plans to continue to operate in Salt Lake City, the employee said. Its horses normally work five- to six-hour shifts for three to four days a week.

Bill Whorton, a carriage driver for Carriage for Hire, said he retired but decided to drive carriages as a hobby. He said he grew up around horses and his grandfather had draft horses.

"These horses are as well taken care of as my dogs, and I love my dogs," Whorton said. "And I love these horses."

He said the horses are doing what they love and are meant to do.

"They're pullers," Whorton said. "They love to go out, they love to pull and that's their purpose. That's what they do."

When carriage drivers go out to pick a horse, the horses "come over and go, 'Pick me, pick me, pick me,'" he said. "They love to do what they're called to do."

For riders, it takes them back to a time when people used to travel by horse and carriage, Whorton said.

Salt Lake City Councilman Charlie Luke said city officials are taking the issue seriously and gathering all the facts.

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