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Horse safety, not emotion, should drive carriage rules

Published September 25, 2013 4:31 pm

Council is right to research rules
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Considering the emotional responses prompted by the very public collapse, and the subsequent death, of Jerry the carriage horse on a hot summer day, the Salt Lake City Council's decision to delay taking any action is the right one.

Nevertheless, the council shouldn't merely let the issue die as the public outcry wanes. The health of the horses that pull carriages loaded with tourists around downtown should continue to be a concern. Any ordinance change should also consider the safety of residents and tourists, although there have been few accidents on city streets involving horse-drawn carriages.

The council voted this week, after a wide-ranging discussion, to ask Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker to work with Salt Lake County Animal Services, which regulates the use and possession of animals in the city, to come up with new regulations.

Those new rules should consider reliable research on what horses need when they are working on city streets in hot weather. Carriage business owners should be required to provide for those needs, and they should be monitored to make sure they stick to the rules.

Jerry's owners said he died of colic, and there is no reason to dispute what they say. Colic can debilitate and kill a horse quickly.

But did the near 100-degree temperatures make colic more likely? Was the horse getting enough water in that heat?

The current ordinance allows horses to work in extremely hot, humid conditions with minimal water breaks during the day. Those lax requirements should be tightened. But eliminating carriages and carriage horses from downtown during the summer tourist season isn't warranted.

Horses have worked in cities for centuries. It's true that 100-plus years ago many were mistreated and died of overwork, but in modern times, with requirements for up-to-date health and safety measures, many horses carry police officers and pull carriages with no ill effects.

To be valued in the 21st century, horses need to provide a service to humans. Few 1,600-pound hay-burners will be kept as pasture ornaments.

If their needs are met, Jerry's co-workers in the carriage business can live long, productive lives. And that's their best insurance against being put to an early death, one way or another.