Note: This article was corrected at 9:22 a.m. on Sept. 9. In the last section, three statements were misattributed to the Charleston Animal Society. They have now been correctly attributed to the City of Charleston.
Last week photos emerged of Charleston’s typically cheery Market Street covered in a trail of blood. When the photos hit Facebook of a limping carriage horse and a man bucketing its blood off the streets, a major controversy ensued over the treatment of Charleston’s carriage horses and the industry in general.
Claims of abuse and calls for the shutdown of carriage horse tours were running rampant. In addition to the outcry on social media, pedestrians in the downtown area yelled their hostile opinions at the carriages as they passed. They even approached workers in the barns where the horses live.
But were these allegations merited?
What Happened to the Horse?
The limping, bleeding horse is named Berry, one of several animals owned by Charleston Classic Carriage Works. Berry slipped on a brick and kicked off his shoe, which led to him cutting his foot and leaving a significant amount of blood in his wake, explained employee Brittany Bradwell. Following the incident, he was evaluated by a veterinarian and cleared for work after three days of rest. Dan Riccio, Director of Livability and Tourism, pointed out that this kind of injury is fairly common and relatively minor.
CisternYard News followed up with Berry a few days after the incident and he appeared to be fully recovered, healthy and back to work.
How Do These Horses Live and Work?
At Charleston Classic Carriage, one day a week is devoted to checking the horses’ shoes and changing them as needed. The company encouraged the public to spend a day with them and see how the horses are cared for before leaping to any conclusions.
That said, there is no denying the arduous nature of the horses’ lives. The work involves long, lonely hours, often in intense heat. To prevent horses from spooking, they wear bridal blinders. This restricts their natural vision and, while navigating the busy streets of downtown Charleston, gives them little opportunity for natural movement. When the Classic Carriage horses complete their six week work period downtown, they spend three weeks off on the company’s farm.
Is Enough Being Done to Protect Them?
The industry is highly regulated. Restrictions intended to protect the animals are monitored by the City of Charleston. The horses work no more than five days a week, for no more than eight hours a day. Only five hours of that day can be spent pulling carriages. The other three are spent at rotation stations in the barn, which is equipped with water, misters and fans. Additionally, horses cannot work when the heat exceeds 98 degrees.
The City of Charleston recently convened a committee comprised of staff members, a CAS representative, a meteorologist, two veterinarians and members of the community to discuss whether the current maximum heat index is appropriate.
The city encourages people to call their tourism hotline at (843) 709-1985 to report any incident involving a carriage horse. They also recommend that the public refrain from snap judgments before talking to city officials, veterinarians and the horses’ caregivers.