The BC SPCA wants Victoria council to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets and limit their operations to a “safer park environment.”
In a letter to council to be discussed at committee of the whole this Thursday (June 7), the organization cites a May 4 incident at Ogden Point, where two horses used by Victoria Carriage Tours accidentally fell to the ground when their trolley came in contact with a bus. The letter states that the horses were “in significant stress for more than five minutes.”
A video of the incident caused public alarm, with BC SPCA and animal activists saying workers were not properly trained to handle the situation, as they didn’t immediately remove the harnesses impeding the horses’ mobility.
“The operator also failed to disclose the length of time it took handlers to adequately assess the situation, remove the harnesses, and successfully help the horses to their feet,” the letter reads. “It is decidedly troubling that Victoria Carriage Tours chose to inappropriately downplay a serious incident which put the public at risk.”
The BC SPCA recommends that the operation of horse-drawn vehicles on “traffic-congested” city streets be prohibited to “mitigate the significant risks,” with tours limited to quiet areas around parks.
“We have gone above and beyond The City of Victoria and SPCA oversight and regulations. I am concerned with the recommendations to prohibit trolley teams in Victoria. Such measures would take away opportunity to assist in training new horses how to do the job,” said Victoria Carriage Tours in a written statement.
“Whether it is a seasoned horse or younger one having a team mate thru [sic.] the streets builds confidence and familiarity giving the horse tools for the job so when they transition to single carriage we have a well balanced happy safe horse : as we can attest to with zero horses or human ever harmed in 15 years. This one incident cannot reflect the whole, not with horses.”
Victoria Carriage Tours also said that the Ogden Point incident was an anomaly in their 15-year business, and that their horses were unharmed. They implemented two new policies after reviewing the video, including a rule to immediately remove the harnesses in the case of a fall, and to never travel that route without a flagger.
Tally-Ho Tours is the other carriage tour company in Victoria, and while it wasn’t involved in the Ogden Point Incident, any changes to the industry would strongly affect its business.
“The carriage industry in Victoria has a strong tradition of working cooperatively with the BC SPCA and the City of Victoria regarding oversight and regulation of our industry,” The Tally-Ho company said in a written statement. “We are confused how safety recommendations suddenly jump to a statement that that potentially puts our business at risk.”
It was further said in the statement that Tally-Ho follows a series of guidelines found in a 70-page manual, which was provided to City Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe for the 2018 season. They add that the industry’s safety record is “outstanding” citing a 0.00001 per cent incident rate over the last 20 years.
The BC SPCA also recommends limiting such vehicles to one-horse carriages, a move that would essentially ban trolleys that require two horses. “The introduction of this condition would reduce public safety concerns and decrease the risk of injury to a horse should another incident occur.”
Additionally, BC SPCA recommends that the horse carriage industry establish standard operating procedures and emergency management plans for urgent situations; that they create a report form for carriage handlers to fill out after any incident, and that they require each operator to have an emergency kit for each vehicle including an extra halter, four traffic cones and first aid kits for both people and horses.
A motion to be discussed at this week’s committee meeting asks for receipt of the correspondence and a request that City staff report back with advice on how best to consider the recommendations.