Crash renews call for ban on horse-drawn carriages

An incident involving a horse-drawn carriage Friday in which its driver and a motorist were injured has led to renewed calls for a ban or more restrictions on the popular tourist attraction.

The carriage was heading south on Wharf Street at about 5:30 p.m., carrying two passengers, when the horse was spooked and bolted into the north lane on Government Street, hitting two cars and a motorcycle.

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The Tally Ho Carriage Tours driver fell out of the carriage and the motorcyclist jumped off his bike. Both suffered minor injuries. The two passengers, tourists from Texas who were on a cruise ship stop-off, were thrown from the carriage but escaped injury.

“This just exemplifies how much of a problem this can be and just how bad a carriage accident can be in Victoria,” said David Shishkoff, the head of Carriage-Free Victoria, which, over the past few years, has collected thousands of signatures in support of banning horse-drawn carriages in the city. “There’s a lot of potential for disaster.”

Shishkoff wants people to write to Victoria city council to express their concerns. “I would hope councillors’ email inboxes will be full by the time they get to work on Monday.”

A protest against horse-drawn carriages took place in Victoria in August 2012 after a spooked horse bolted through Chinatown, dumping three passengers, one of whom suffered a broken arm.

Major cities including New York are moving toward banning horse-drawn carriages. A Vancouver Island company is helping to develop Horseless eCarriages, vehicles that look similar to those built in the 1900s, as a replacement. “New York is obviously ahead of the curve here and Victoria needs to follow suit,” Shishkoff said.

Tally Ho manager Kate Clark said Friday’s incident involved an experienced driver who has worked for the company for nine years, and a well-trained horse, a Clydesdale called Roy, which has been with the company three years. On Saturday, the horse was grazing on the farm and had no injuries or signs of trauma, Clark said.

Clark said it was an “unfortunate incident” that will prompt the company to re-examine its safety protocols. “Safety is obviously our main concern,” Clark said. “Unfortunately, when there is a horse involved, people are going to question whether or not it’s stressful for the animals. It’s my belief that they’re born and bred to do this work. They’re not stressed-out animals.”

Clark said the company is looking into what caused the accident.

Victoria councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe said the city is taking the incident very seriously.

“For me, as someone who works on animal welfare issues, it’s a fine balance,” she said.

“I think the horse-and-carriage industry, we definitely get a lot of people who have concerns about it. But there are others who feel these are working horses and, as long as the treatment is humane, we should continue it.”

Thornton-Joe has asked staff to compile a list of incidents over at least the past five years to “see if there’s any common denominators,” such as a time of day or particular streets where problems tend to occur.

Thornton-Joe said over the past five years, the city has worked with the SPCA to strengthen the bylaw to ensure that all animals have veterinary certificates and to place restrictions on when horse-drawn carriages can operate to avoid rush- hour traffic.

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