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Horse-drawn carriage tours on city streets defended

Owners, drivers, veterinarians rebut claims about risks
A horse-drawn carriage navigates the traffic on Government at Belleville streets on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

A call by the B.C. SPCA to ban horse-drawn carriages in downtown Victoria is facing stiff opposition from people in the industry.

Carriage owners, drivers and veterinarians appeared at city hall Thursday night to challenge claims that the tours are unsafe.

The SPCA recommended the ban after reviewing video of a May 4 incident in which two harnessed horses struggled to regain their footing. The horses ended up on the pavement after the carriage they were pulling was bumped by a bus at Ogden Point.

Craig Daniell, the B.C. SPCA’s chief executive officer, said in a letter to council that the incident involving Victoria Carriage Tours showed there was a serious threat to public safety and the animals’ welfare.

“Permitting the continued operation of horse-drawn tours on busy streets places horses at risk of injury or death,” he wrote.

But Victoria veterinarian Danica Olenick, who has provided care to the company’s horses for the past decade, rejected that claim Thursday.

“In the 10 years I have been providing the primary veterinary care for the Victoria Carriage Tours, I can tell you that there has not been a single incident of injury to a horse while operating carriages in the downtown area,” she told council.

Olenick, owner of Swiftsure Equine Veterinary Services, disputed SPCA’s assertion that the horses in the May 4 incident were in significant distress.

“In the video … what I see are two horses that did exhibit some mild stress, but were not panicking. They were remaining calm and quiet while people worked around them.”

Olenick added that she routinely examines the company’s horses several times a year.

“The horses do not show signs of exhaustion, chronic stress or pain,” she said.

Katarina Sjoblom, owner of Victoria Carriage Tours, told council that none of her horses has been harmed in the 15 years she has owned the company — 90,000 horse hours on city streets.

She acknowledged that the video of the May 4 incident “stirs a lot of emotion” but she said there were no injuries to the horses, her staff or passengers.

“My company does have rules and regulations in place, and we continually train our horses and our staff regularly,” she said.

“We are in good standing. We pass every inspection. … As well, we go above and beyond the guidelines and standards set by the Carriage Operators of North America.”

City council is awaiting a staff report on the issue.