An animal rights organization is ramping up its campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages in downtown Victoria.

The carriages, which have been a staple in the city for more than a century, are being called inhumane by the Victoria Horse Alliance.

The organization has launched a petition calling on the City of Victoria for an outright ban on the practice – citing city traffic, exhaust fumes, asphalt on horses’ hooves and metal bars in the animals’ mouths as big concerns.

“This is about addressing the cruelty concerns that we have with the horses, the pain and discomfort they operate in on the city streets every single day,” said alliance spokesman Jordan Reichert.

He claimed the use of the metal bits in horses’ mouths to control them is particularly cruel.

“We feel this is the same in many ways as using a choke collar on a dog, in that it’s trying to change and control the horse’s behaviour through inducing pain, and we feel that’s inhumane,” he said. “When you look at the evidence…you see that there are humane concerns that exist and they’re not being addressed by the carriage companies or the BC SPCA or the city at this time.”

The group says an accident last year involving a horse-drawn carriage and a car is proof the rides should be banned.

A horse pulling a carriage got spooked and reared up against a car before taking off – pulling the carriage down the street and dragging a motorcycle underneath.

But those in the industry insist there’s nothing to worry about.

“I’m sure they love the horses, but we love them even more,” said Katarina Sjoblom of Victoria Horse Carriage Tours. “We do not mistreat the animals. A danger to the public? I would have to say no. Horses have been around for a long time, carriages have been around for a long time. It’s the cars that are dangerous to people.”

She added that among other perks, her horses have their feet tended to every six weeks and get regular days off.

“I know everybody’s not out at the farm…[but] they get to live as natural as it can get in a herd environment with food 24/7, and I feel very good about it,” she said.

BC SCPA spokeswoman Erika Paul said her organization would investigate any concerns with the horses’ treatment.

“If there are any concerns with regards to the care of the animals, the health of the animals, the way they’re being treated or handled or trained,” she said.

Up until a few years ago, the industry was self-regulated, but now veterinarians inspect the horses twice a year while BC SPCA checks stables annually.

The petition to ban the carriage rides had attracted 430 signatures as of early Monday evening.