The scene on a busy downtown street Saturday was sad and upsetting for the human tourists and Utahns who witnessed it. For Jerry, a 13-year-old carriage horse, it was potentially life-threatening.
Jerry collapsed in the near-100-degree heat of the afternoon near South Temple and State Street while pulling visitors seated in an ornate carriage around Salt Lake streets. He didn't get up.
His owners say he is suffering from colic and could die, and there is no reason to question that assessment. But how much was the heat to blame for the sudden onset? Working in extreme heat can be a factor in colic in horses.
Heat affects horses more severely and often more quickly than humans because of their much larger body mass Jerry weighs 1,800 pounds and heavy musculature, which produces more heat that is harder to vent. The heat coming off asphalt and concrete makes urban work difficult for horses.
There are questions that Salt Lake City officials must answer: Is it safe for horses to continue working in the hottest part of the day when the temperatures hover around 100 degrees? How does the heat, which matched record extremes this summer, affect horses, and what requirements should the city establish for the care of these hard-working beasts?
The current city ordinance is so lax as to be laughable. It's of little help to the horses or their owners.
Carriage horses are allowed to work in Salt Lake City unless the heat index the combined temperature and relative humidity reaches 150 degrees, which would require the city's record high of 107 degrees, plus 57 percent humidity.
That is ridiculous. The ordinance essentially means there are no days when it is too hot for these animals to be relieved of their duties. That allows owners and drivers to keep them clopping through the worst heat wave without penalty. When a business owner is trying to make money, it can be too tempting to abandon sound judgment.
The ordinance also requires water breaks for the horses every two hours. But when the temperature nears 100, a working horse needs up to 8 gallons of water an hour. He's not going to get enough on two-hour water breaks. It would be difficult for the managers to provide them adequate water during near-record heat.
Government takes its responsibility to human workers seriously. Utah's capital should be as concerned about its equine workforce.