As residents of Lavaca and King William, we are not strangers to the changes happening in and around Downtown San Antonio, a rapidly developing urban area. We see it every day when we step out of our front doors — new hotels, office buildings, housing developments, bars and restaurants. Our city leaders no doubt hoped and planned for this type of return on their downtown investments. A once sleepy and romantic downtown has become a booming epicenter reflective of its status as the nation’s seventh largest city.
With that growth comes change, both good and bad. A typical problem many fast-growing cities face is increased downtown traffic and congestion. To avoid the kind of problems that Austin has had in this area, our leaders have to innovate to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of residents and tourists in the downtown area — and there is an obvious and humane first step: prohibit horse carriages from clogging up the streets of San Antonio.
If you spend much time downtown, you know that horse carriages compete for space with cars, buses, trucks, cyclists and scooters, and those horses face potential dangers from vehicles, construction and climate change. Animal-drawn vehicles create hazards to both animals and humans, and they should be replaced with safer, sustainable and more humane transportation options.
This problem is not unique to San Antonio, and many cities across the country are taking action. As reported in the San Antonio Report, some have banned horse-drawn carriages from operating on city streets, including Chicago, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Key West, and more. New York City’s ban on horse drawn carriages will go into effect in 2024.
Many other cities (including San Antonio) have regulations on horse carriage operations. For example, San Antonio has regulations that outline the area of the city and the streets on which they can be operated; there are specific hours of operation; and operations are not permitted when the temperature exceeds 95 degrees.
Here in San Antonio, SAPD is responsible for enforcing current regulations, a burden they are not staffed to perform. But even if they were, the real problem is that the regulations we have aren’t sufficient — they cannot prevent a horse from getting spooked or losing control. Nor can those regulations prevent an automobile from hitting a carriage.
For these reasons, I am proud to support the Council Consideration Request (CCR) submitted by Councilman Mckee-Rodriguez (district 2) and Councilwoman Viagran (district 3). This request seeks to end this abusive practice and search for new and more sustainable tourism transportation options for downtown. The resolution was signed by three additional councilpersons — Councilman Pelaez (district 8), Councilwoman Rocha Garcia (district 4) and former Councilwoman Sandoval (district 7). The request is now with Mayor Ron Nirenberg to be heard at his determination.
Horse carriage owners and operators have had a strong reaction to the possible end of this transportation option in downtown: many have threatened to send their horses to slaughter once they are unable to profit from them. This violent threat should be seen as exactly what it is – an emotional ploy by abusers who place no value on these animals as companions. In fact, the San Antonio Animal Collaborative has already received confirmation from multiple reputable horse sanctuaries in Texas that they will accept any at-risk horses from the carriage industry into their program for retirement. Slaughter will most certainly not be the only option.
The goal of this change is not to eliminate business opportunities. The goal is to provide those involved in the horse carriage industry with sustainable and long-term options for tourism transportation that everyone can be proud of. Cities such as Guadalajara, our sister city in Mexico, have invested in electric horseless carriages with great success, and those business owners have thrived and seen their tourism business grow in volume, safety, satisfaction and diversity.
It’s time for San Antonio to free horses from suffering in these dangerous and unpredictable conditions. It’s time for San Antonio to usher in a new era of modern and sustainable tourism transportation. It is the right thing to do for the animals, and it is the right thing to do for our growing city.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with a horse ‘having a job’. This is simply to say that Downtown San Antonio has become an inhospitable place for these horses to thrive, and their presence, along with the working conditions they are subject to, is now a black eye for our city.
As our downtown grows, accidents involving the carriages are becoming a serious and more likely threat. Collisions between carriages and automobiles have occurred across the country, where carriage passengers, vehicle occupants, and horses have been seriously injured. To give you a feel for the nature and severity of some of the accidents, take a look at The Partnerships to Ban Horse Carriages website, which provides descriptions of horse carriage accidents in US cities over the past several years.
Accidents can be caused by congested traffic, poor automobile driving, and horses getting spooked (they become frightened and take off). No one — not even the most experienced horse handler or carriage operator — can guarantee that a horse will not become spooked. In a city, a spooked horse can result in a serious and deadly accident. These types of accidents cannot be prevented by regulations alone. The only way to prevent them is to ban horse drawn carriages from operating on busy downtown streets.
Accidents aren’t the only problem. Horses also face cruel treatment. Here in San Antonio, they are forced to work in extreme high temperatures. They work long hours in the heat, and at the same time, they are forced to stand behind buses and cars pumping exhaust fumes directly into their air space.
Compounding that mistreatment, many of the horses that work in Downtown San Antonio are housed at loud, poorly ventilated, dirty, industrial “barns” on the edge of Downtown. When their shifts are over, they often travel routes that are even more unsafe than those of the downtown streets.
These work and living conditions often result in dehydration, and it’s not uncommon for the animals to develop respiratory disease, lameness, and other injuries. Volunteers for the San Antonio Animal Collaborative have gone out to document several instances of these types of problems, occurring every day in our city.
Katie Jarl is the Executive Director of Texas Pets Alive!
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