Nova Scotia

Time to pull in the reins on horse-and-buggy trade, says advocate

An advocate is raising questions about the horse-and-buggy industry after an accident in Lunenburg earlier this month.

'Have a motorized carriage, rather than have a horse that is drawing around all day'

Basil Oickle, owner of Trot in Time, with his horse Clifford in 2017. (CBC)

An advocate says it's time to rein in the horse-and-buggy industry after a horse crashed through a restaurant window in Lunenburg, N.S., earlier this month.

"I know they look pretty, and this is a historical town so I understand the philosophy behind it, but things have changed a lot," said Marni Gent, who lives in Lunenburg.

The horse, Roscoe, needed stitches after the May 19 incident. According to the horse-drawn carriage tour business Trot in Time, he's healing up and will be monitored over the next few weeks to ensure he won't have any long-term effects.

While horses and carriages were once a popular mode of transportation, Gent said they don't work well with present-day traffic on Lunenburg's hilly, narrow streets — especially when tourist season is in full swing.

"They're very well-behaved horses, and they're cared for, but they're animals that bolt," she said. "I grew up with horses, I've been around horses all my life, and they can be unpredictable."

RCMP responded to the Subway restaurant on Montague Street in Lunenburg after a horse smashed through a window. (Submitted by Paul Behner)

Gent suggested that the town adopt horseless carriages to preserve jobs and keep the horses off the road. She would like to see the horses retired to sanctuaries or adoptive homes.

"Tourists can still come to Lunenburg, and have the beautiful carriages, and go around a tour of the town and the beautiful houses," she said. 

"But have a motorized carriage, rather than have a horse that is drawing around all day, standing in the sun all day. I think everybody wins."

This isn't Gent's first brush with the industry. During a summer heat wave last year, she protested hot working conditions for the horses. 

Gent protested hot working conditions for the horses during a record-breaking heat wave last year. (Marni Gent/Facebook)

Trot in Time has since been taking additional precautions to keep the horses inside when there's extreme heat.

Ban in Montreal

Montreal has plans to ban calèches — horse-drawn carriages operated mostly as a tourist activity downtown and in Old Montreal — as of Dec. 31. 

The announcement came following a number of complaints about the practice. Several months after it was announced, a calèche horse collapsed and died on the street.

The city will be providing calèche owners with compensation and animal welfare groups will be working to find new homes for the horses. Gent said Nova Scotia should consider following in Montreal's footsteps.

Horse-drawn carriages will be banned in Montreal under a new animal control bylaw by next year. (Morgan Lowrie/Canadian Press)

Victoria is also considering a ban. City staff are currently drafting a report studying the implications of phasing out the industry.

Workhorses not pets, says Trot in Time

Basil Oickle, owner of Trot in Time, declined an interview with CBC News.

But in a written statement, he said that if the push for a ban continues, the owners of the horses won't be able to keep them, and it will be difficult to find them homes.

He said between the feed, vet and care costs, caring for a horse is expensive — running owners about $5,000 a year.

"These horses would most likely meet their demise as they would stiffen up from not working and end up in a western Canadian processing facility (a process still legal in Canada, while outlawed in the United States)," he wrote.

Trot in Time has been operating since 1996. (CBC)

Oickle said Trot in Time has only had three minor accidents in 20 years in business.

He said there was a fender-bender when a carriage caught the bumper of a vehicle. A carriage wheel scraped a parked car and there was a time a horse got stung by a bee. 

None of these resulted in injury to humans or horses.

He also said that Trot in Time meets all regulatory standards for care and working environments for the animals.

"Society has replaced them as a working breed and are positioning horses as pets, which they are not," said Oickle. 

"Looking at the history of the workhorse will show that the duty of pulling a carriage is not a hard task for them and in fact is a fit for their build and demeanour."

SPCA takes no side in debate

According to a position statement on the Nova Scotia SPCA website, the organization said it keeps a close eye on businesses using animals for entertainment purposes.

"Many activities involve animals in Nova Scotia and some have rich heritages and cultural significance," it said. 

"It is not for the Nova Scotia SPCA to determine if these activities should continue, but the Society is mandated to ensure that animals are protected from cruelty and relieved from distress."

Oickle said that Roscoe will be evaluated before he returns to work. He will likely be out of action for at least a month.

About the Author

Alex Cooke

Reporter/editor

Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Nova Scotia

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