Montreal has joined a growing list of major cities that have banned a popular tourist attraction — horse-drawn carriages. And other Canadian cities may soon follow suit.
Earlier this month, Montreal moved to prohibit horse-drawn carriages (also called calèches) from its streets by 2020 due to concerns about animal cruelty. Other cities such as Las Vegas, London and Toronto (just the downtown area) have also pushed to make it illegal.
“The conversation across Canada on this issue is continuing to grow,” said Jordan Reichert of the Animal Protection Party of Canada. “Montreal sets a tremendous precedent for other cities, like Victoria, which are considering a ban.”
Horse-drawn carriages have been a staple of Montreal’s tourist industry for generations, as well as in many cities across Canada, like Vancouver, Victoria and Quebec City.
But despite the tourist appeal, there is a growing amount of criticism against carriage tour operations, as many animal rights groups say horses are subject to extreme temperatures, crowded and dangerous streets and long work hours.
WATCH: SPCA pushes for changes to Victoria’s horse-drawn carriages
“Horses are regularly distressed in city streets because they are surrounded by vehicles, there’s construction going on … and there also isn’t any regulation for how many hours they can work or the temperatures they can work in,” Reichert said.
He said that is why the Animal Protection Party of Canada is calling for a full ban on horse-drawn carriages in Victoria. This comes after a video circulated online showing two horses falling while pulling a trolley full of passengers near the city’s cruise ship terminal.
The footage, shot in May, showed one of the animals struggling to get up, getting caught in its harness and collapsing, bringing the other horse down.
The B.C. SPCA is also calling on Victoria City Council to take the horse-drawn tours off the streets and move it into city parks instead, as well as ensuring emergency kits are on the carriages if an incident like this happens again.
The call for a ban on horse-drawn carriages is also making its way to the East Coast. The national animal rights group, Animal Justice, is now pressuring P.E.I., a province known for this tourist attraction, to put an end to the tradition.
‘Horses are our number one concern’
Supporters of horse-drawn carriages cite the deep history behind the tourist rides. Owners of the horse tours also say their animals are treated well and have regular veterinarian inspections.
In a statement, Victoria Carriage tours, the company whose horses were in the video, said the company has been operating the horse trolleys for over 15 years and this was the first time an incident like that had happened.
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“All horses are prepared for their work in Victoria. The team involved in the incident was unharmed, checked by our veterinarian,” a spokesperson said. “Our safety record is outstanding. We take very seriously the training of our horses and staff to ensure public safety at all times.”
Gerry O’Neil, owner of Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours, said that he gets why people are concerned for the animals, but said that he believes it’s about educating the public about how the horses are cared for.
“Everything we do is always asking, ‘How can we better the horses’ environment?'” he said. “Horses are our number one concern. They come first, as without them, we would not be here.”
O’Neil’s carriage business has about 20 horses that work on rotation. They work about four to five days a week, and four to five months a year, he said. He added that the horses are also sent to pastures to rest in order to be in a more natural environment.
WATCH: Stanley Park horses spooked by a horn
He said he makes sure his horses are well-groomed, well-fed and have regular water breaks during the day. And once every two months a veterinarian comes to check up on the animals.
“I have no use for people that are nasty and overwork the horses and don’t feed them properly,” O’Neil said. “Horses are athletes and need training, care and grooming. It would be a lie to say all horses could pull a carriage; they need proper care in order to do this.”
Reichert said he believes that horse-carriage businesses, like O’Neil’s, do make an effort to take care of their animals, but at the end of the day, it’s still a dangerous tourist attraction and a for-profit business.
“Accidents do happen and they put the horses in dangerous situations,” he said. “Forget that this has been here for 100 years and it may be nostalgic. It does not make sense ethically and practically to put these animals in these situations.”