Charleston City Council approves lower heat limits for carriage horses

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LESLIE MCKELLAR
  • Leslie McKellar
Charleston City Council gave initial approval to new regulations Tuesday night that will require carriage horses to be removed from the streets once temperatures reach 95 degrees. The amended ordinance reduces the current limit of 98 degrees and would also require horses to be reined in when the heat index reaches 110 degrees rather than 125.

The proposed changes are the product of a city committee formed last August for the sole purpose of evaluating Charleston’s temperature standards for carriage horse operations. Dan Riccio, city director of livability and tourism, told council that the lowered temperature levels where decided upon by evaluating four year’s worth of data related to daily temperatures and the internal temperatures of horses.

Carriage companies are required to track the internal temperatures of horses throughout the day and remove horses from their routes if their temperatures rise above 103 degrees. By comparing outdoor and internal temperatures, the committee learned that horses’ temperatures began to rise when the heat index reached 110 degrees, with an average outdoor temperature of 95 at those moments.

Councilman Bill Moody opposed the new ordinance, arguing that the amended regulations would do nothing but harm to carriage operators. One of three council members to vote against the ordinance, Moody was joined by Councilmen William Dudley Gregory and Keith Waring in arguing that carriage companies are best left to govern themselves.

“Most successful business models are put together by successful people — not elected officials. It’s actually done in the private sector,” said Waring. “The most successful part of the business community in the United States are the small-business people ... It’s in their interest to see that these animals are treated first, the best, with the best practices being applied. Their most important asset isn’t the carriage. It’s actually the animal.”

In managing the new regulations, the ordinance also requires limits to be evaluated using four consecutive temperature or heat index readings taken at least 15 minutes apart. Last year, the National Weather Service in North Charleston recorded more than 30 days during which the high temperature reached or exceeded 95 degrees. Of those 34 days, 11 saw temperatures reach or surpass the 98-degree mark. While temperatures restricting carriage horses will be measured using an official thermometer located atop the Doubletree Hotel on Church Street, the fact that Charleston experienced its hottest July on record in 2016 was worth considering for some city leaders.

“I don’t know if y’all remember last summer — and you can blame it on whatever you want — but I believe the climate is changing on this planet and it’s getting hotter,” said Mayor John Tecklenburg. “We need to be sensitive to the temperature to the horses and their working conditions.”

Tuesday’s meeting drew comments from animal welfare advocates and those in the carriage business, who came down on either side of the new ordinance. Councilman Moody indicated that carriage industry representatives who supported the changes were merely hoping to appease animal rights organizations, but he warned that some groups would not stop until horses are removed from the streets altogether.

Councilman Gary White struck a weary tone, telling his fellow council members that every year when the temperatures begin to rise, city leaders revive the debate over the working conditions of carriage horses. Surprised to see at least some amount of compromise between carriage companies and animal welfare groups, White said that he believed approving the ordinance would establish some positive momentum in the debate. He also reminded everyone listening in City Council chambers that the discussion was far from over.

“We will continue to hear from both sides. Neither side will ever get exactly what they want. It will just continuously move forward inch by inch by inch,” said White, who has served as a member of the city’s Tourism Commission for almost a decade. “No one should think that this is done or over. I have no expectations that that’s the case.”


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