Horse-drawn trolley tours in uptown Waterloo draw ire of activists

Animal rights activists say the Uptown Waterloo BIA shouldn't use horses to pull trolleys of people during a holiday shopping event. The BIA says it still plans to have the trolleys this year.

Uptown Waterloo BIA says horses are treated well and it will continue with the tours

Horse-drawn trolley rides in uptown Waterloo are drawing criticism from animal rights activists in Waterloo region. (UpTown Waterloo BIA)

Horse-drawn trolley tours will still be part of holiday celebrations in uptown Waterloo despite animal rights activists criticizing the use of animals in the annual tradition.

"For this year, it's part of our plan," said Tracy Van Kalsbeek, executive director of the Uptown Waterloo BIA. "It's been a really popular event of ours for many years."

"Moving forward, we'll certainly continue to be vigilant in our screening of all of our event partners and the treatment of their animals," she added.

The trolley rides are free to shoppers and are provided by St. Jacobs Horse Drawn Tours, which also operates at the St. Jacobs Farmers' Market, as well as doing sugar bush tours and sleigh rides.

Free to ask questions

Van Kalsbeek said she has no concerns with the company, its owner Nathan Kuepfer or his treatment of horses.

"This is what he does," she said. "He loves his animals and from everything that we've seen, he treats them very well."

Kuepfer told CBC News that his horses are well taken care of and that the people who are complaining aren't educated in livestock management and animals.

"I think we're just dramatizing something that doesn't need to be dramatized," he said.

Kuepfer said anyone who has questions about his business and the animals is welcome to ask questions.

"We think we're such an intellectual group of people, but sometimes we make decisions before we have the facts," he said.

Trolley tours part of shopping event

The trolley tours are part of a larger BIA initiative to get people into the core to start holiday shopping.

But on a Facebook event page for the tours, some are saying there's no need to have horses involved.

"I understand that these are big powerful animals that are capable of heavy work, but it's always seemed to me that the trolleys they are pulling are overloaded and too heavy, especially given the winter road conditions they are working on," Shannon Pennington wrote on the page, saying she's never gone on the trolley rides out of concern for the horses.

"I have avoided this event over the last few years specifically because of the trolleys. I don't want to witness them any longer and clearly I'm not the only one."

Another person named Rachel Diamond said it's "sad to see that the City of Waterloo wants to use horses for these tours when time and time again we see horses collapse and even die in harness."

Death of horse in Old Montreal

The comments come after a calèche horse collapsed and died in Old Montreal on Nov. 4. Just before the animal's death, a video shows it was pulling a carriage and having trouble breathing.

The SPCA issued a release saying it was "eager to see" Montreal's bylaw, which will prohibit horse-drawn carriages from operating in the city, come into effect on Dec. 31, 2019.

But the horse's owner, Luc Desparois of Lucky Luc Stables, said the horse was well taken care of and horses, like humans, "die out of the blue without showing any signs."

Malcolm Klimowicz is with the group KOALA, the Kitchener Ontario Animal Liberation Alliance, and said he'd like to see the city use electric trolleys or consider doing away with them all together.

"Someone described it as pulling an entire neighbourhood," Klimowicz told CBC News.

He said he knows many people have been calling the BIA with their concerns.

"It's a forward-thinking community and I think they'll listen to the people and make the switch to a less cruel event," he said.