Caleche horse in apparent distress spurs call to ban practice

After witnessing a horse slipping on a metal plate in Griffintown, a woman's Facebook post has rallied others to write complaints to the mayor of Montreal. But caleche drivers say the city is to blame for construction along the horses' route home.
Tara Schulz snapped this photo of a caleche horse in apparent distress after attempting to walk on a metal plate on the road. (Tara Schulz)

Photographs of a distressed caleche horse slipping on a metal plate on the road have prompted an unplanned campaign to see caleches banned in Montreal.

Tara Schulz was on her way home when she spotted the horse near the corner of Peel and Notre-Dame West Streets on Tuesday around 5:50 p.m. It was being led back to the stables along the designated route established by the city, when it slipped on a metal plate placed on the road during construction.

"It would try to stand up; it would fall. I described it to my friends as Bambi on ice," said Schulz. "The horse was exhausted and very distraught. It was a very disturbing scene."

Schulz snapped some photos with her phone. When she got home, she decided to post to the Facebook group Anti-caleche defense coalition

The coalition urged people to write complaints to Mayor Denis Coderre, asking that he ban the use of caleches in the city.

But caleche owners say the blame lies with the city.

Owners say the designated route to the main stables in Griffintown is completely overrun with construction.

"The city has to make sure that we have a safe route to use," said Dominique Pelletier, a caleche owner and member of Quebec à Cheval, the organization that oversees equestrian tourism and recreation in the province. She does not own the horse photographed.

"There are some horses that won't step foot on a metal plate ever. So if you come across one, you are in a big situation where you have to kind of back your horse up and turn around. And if you are on a one-way street, you can't do that."

City of Montreal officials issued a statement Tuesday evening, saying they are examining the situation and will try to identify measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

"The City of Montreal is very sensitive to the well-being and health of our caleche horses," the statement said, adding that city officials inspect the animals' conditions regularly.

With regards to the horse slipping on the steel plate that was installed due to roadwork, the city said installing them is the norm and ensures people's safety.

"The metal sheets, like the one involved in yesterday's incident, are used for the majority of construction work in Montreal, as they are in other parts of America. It's for the safety of the users of the road."

New York City mayor attempting to ban caleches

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants to see caleches banned by June 1, 2016.

A bill, tabled to city council in December 2014, states: "it shall be unlawful to operate a horse-drawn vehicle in the city of New York or offer rides to the public on a vehicle drawn or pulled by a carriage horse."

The bill is facing heavy opposition from the city's horse-carriage industry. It even received some star power in the form of a New York Times op-ed written by Hollywood actor Liam Neeson, defending the practice.

In Montreal, the Anti-caleche defense coalition has been pushing for a ban for years.

The city did not immediately respond to a request for an interview concerning the incident with the horse, the construction or its stance on a potential ban.