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Carriage company seeks funds for horse care during pandemic

A Victoria horse and carriage company has launched an online fundraising campaign to feed and care for its 18 draught animals, now out of work because of COVID-19.
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A Tally Ho carriage pulled by a draught horse travels through downtown Victoria in April 2018.

A Victoria horse and carriage company has launched an online fundraising campaign to feed and care for its 18 draught animals, now out of work because of COVID-19.

Tally-Ho Carriage Tours has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $120,000 for a year’s care for the horses, which are now at the company’s farm in Central Saanich.

Owner Donna Friedlander said she sees no other option than to appeal to horse lovers and others who enjoy seeing the big draught animals around town. “It’s humbling to have to go out and ask for help like this and put ourselves out there,” Friedlander said. “But as much as you can cut costs, you can’t cut horse care.”

Resigned to the fact that there will likely be no tourist season in 2020, her company has already laid off all its staff, 10 immediately and another 14 to 16 people who had been expecting summer jobs.

Friedlander said while those who have lost jobs to the COVID-19 pandemic can get help from government programs, there is nothing for out-of-work animals. “Horses just don’t qualify for any kind of government assistance,” she said.

Tally Ho is one of two companies in Victoria offering horse-drawn carriage rides, mostly for tourists, using the big, powerful draught animals originally bred for pulling plows.

The other company, Victoria Carriage Tours, employs even more horses, a total of 31. Victoria Carriage Tours also offers rides to groups of tourists on larger carriages pulled by two horses in a harness.

Victoria Carriage owner Katarina Sjoblom said she has laid off 24 people and told the summer staff, many of them university students, they won’t be needed.

As for the horses, Sjoblom is leasing her draught animals and harness gear to anyone willing to pay for feed and vet bills, and to ensure the animals are exercised regularly.

She said her biggest stipulation before dropping off the horses is that she be allowed to check up on them regularly.

“The response we’ve had so far has been: ‘How can we help?’ ” she said. “These horses are icons. They are rock stars of Victoria and people are excited to have a draught horse for a year.”

Tally-Ho’s fundraising drive has renewed the controversy that dogs the horse-drawn-carriage business in Victoria.

A group calling itself the Victoria Horse Alliance, part of the Animal Alliance of Canada, called the GoFundMe campaign “unconscionable.”

“A for-profit business that exploits animals for profit is opportunistically trying to exploit people’s love for animals to line their own pockets during a crisis,” said Jordan Reichert, founder of Victoria Horse Alliance and West Coast campaigner for the Animal Alliance of Canada.

Reichert said his group would be happy to help Tally-Ho and Victoria Carriage Tours find homes for their horses, but only if they commit to shutting down.

Last year, Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt faced about 1,000 angry emails and a city hall protest after calling for the horse-drawn-carriage business to be phased out. His efforts ultimately failed to gain any support from fellow councillors.

Friedlander said complaints about companies like hers come from people who know little about horses and even less about draught animals.

“Our horses walk for a living, pull a very light load and use barely 20 per cent of their available energy,” she said. “They have a pretty good lifestyle.

“I love this industry and I’m very proud of how we operate in Victoria. We are all very good operators in Victoria and engage in extremely good horse care.”