The Charleston Animal Society’s push for an independent study of the city’s carriage industry took a step forward Wednesday when the city’s tourism commission agreed to consider the proposal.
The goal would be to bring in outside experts to settle the long-standing argument over how well Charleston’s carriage horses tolerate the heat and humidity while pulling passengers.
The commission voted to form a subcommittee to ascertain what the study would involve and how it would affect the horses’ daily routine.
A carriage-horse company representative said he would participate in the discussion if animal-rights advocates would back off their attacks on social media.
“I’m willing to draw the line on my side,” Ben Doyle with Palmetto Carriage Works said. “But no more threats … It’s got to quiet down.”
Doyle and Charleston Carriage Works owner Broderick Christoff were particularly upset that Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates and the Charleston Animal Society recently distributed a video of a horse named Big John lying on the street and said the horse collapsed because of exhaustion. The video received more than 11 million views on Facebook and generated national publicity.
The Charleston Carriage Works driver, the city’s tourism enforcement officers and a vet who examined the horse all said Big John tripped and waited until his harness was removed before getting up, then walked back to the barn and was fine.
Christoff called it a “false and vicious campaign” designed to provoke outrage.
Commission members agreed that it’s not likely that council would pass an ordinance requiring the carriage companies to participate in a study as a condition of doing business, especially when it’s not clear what would be required.
Kurt Taylor, legal counsel for the Animal Society, presented an overview of the proposed study. He said it would be conducted by experts from recognized universities and reviewed by other outside experts. The goal would be to collect data while the horses were working to determine the conditions under which they can work comfortably. The Animal Society has offered to pay for the study but can find other funding sources if that’s a problem, he said.
The subcommittee would include tourism commission members, city staff and representatives of the Animal Society and carriage companies.