BC SPCA asks Victoria to ban horse-drawn carriage tours on city streets
The BC SPCA has asked the City of Victoria to ban all horse-drawn carriages and trolleys on city streets after video surfaced of two horses involved in a fall last month.
In a letter addressed to Mayor Lisa Helps and council, BC SPCA CEO Craig Daniell said the May 4 video shows two trolley horses that fell and were in "significant distress for more than five minutes."
The accident occurred when a bus pulled up behind the trolley, operated by Victoria Carriage Tours. The trolley then rolled back and hit the front of the bus as it prepared to advance, Daniell said.
"This collision caused the harness to slacken, knocking the horses, Chris and Matt, off-balance," he said. "Chris fell, pulling Matt down with him in the middle of the road."
The video shows handlers' attempts to get the horses back on their feet, resulting in one of the horses falling again.
Members of the public tried to pull at the head and neck of both horses, grabbing one of their tails, and positioned themselves dangerously close to both horses' legs, Daniell said.
"It is not until more than five minutes into the video that the harnesses are finally removed and the horses are able to successfully return to their feet," he wrote.
The BC SPCA consulted a veterinarian and horse specialist who said she was concerned that the animals' harnesses were left on for at least five minutes, instead of taken off immediately.
The veterinarian, Bettina Bobsien, also pointed to what she called the broader issue of traffic congestion in downtown Victoria due to a rapidly growing population.
"Combine this growth with a population that is now 'three generations off the farm,' and we have a pace of life and lack of understanding about horses that does not welcome their presence on city streets," wrote Bobsien.
The BC SPCA also said the video contradicts statement made by the carriage operator.
While the company said both horses remained calm throughout the incident, the footage shows that the horses' handlers "did not have an appropriate strategy in place to safely resolve the incident," according to the organization.
Victoria Carriage Tours also failed to disclose how long it took handlers to assess the situation, remove the harnsesses and get the horses on their feet, the BC SPCA said.
Speaking to CTV News in May, the company said the video didn't show the whole story.
"Our horses are trained to stay down once they realize they can't get back up on their own," said head horse trainer Emily May. "They also would have seen a number of equestrians, once the horses were back on their feet, commenting on how expertly our staff handled it, and in my opinion more importantly, commenting on how amazingly calm the horses were once they were back on their feet."
The company said both horses were uninjured and that it was only the second time in more than a decade that its animals have fallen on-duty.
Another horse carriage tour operator in the area, Tally-Ho, issued a statement in response to the BC SPCA's letter.
“We are confused how safety recommendations suddenly jump to a statement that potentially puts our business at risk,” it read.
Meanwhile, the BC SPCA is calling for a "strong response" from city council.
"The BC SPCA recommends Council prohibit the operation of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys on Victoria’s streets, limiting their operation to the safer park environment," said Daniell.
The organization is also asking council to limit horse-drawn vehicle to one horse per vehicle, and recommending additional standards for the carriage tour industry including the implementation of standard operating procedures and emergency management plans.
Council has received the recommendation and city staff will report back on its findings.
Read the full letter below: